Seattle Says 'No' to Bag Tax

The controversial debate regarding whether Seattle should institute a 20-cent tax on disposable bags came to a close when residents voted “no” on the measure.

Referendum 1 was defeated in early election returns, with 58 percent voting against. The tax would have made Seattle the first city in the nation to charge for both paper and plastic shopping bags. Last year, the City Council had approved the measure, but a petition effort caused it to appear before voters.

Photo: Amanda Wills,

Seattle had projected that its plastic and paper bag tax would have generated $3.5 million annually to be used for litter collection and recycling initiatives. Photo: Amanda Wills,

Supporters argued the fee would have cut down on pollution and encouraged more reusable bags, providing suppliers and distributors a greater market for eco-friendly bags. However, opponents said the tax was unnecessary in a city that is already considered environmentally responsible.

“It appears that the referendum was soundly defeated by Seattle residents,” said Steve Russell, vice president of plastics for ACC, to Plastics News. “Residents clearly expressed that a tax was not the way to go. The message it sends to us is that consumers value plastic bags and have rejected the idea of paying a fee for something they value and already use responsibly.”

No matter the direction of the vote, some campaigners are pleased that the issue itself received as much attention as it did.

In 2007, more than 830 million pounds of plastic bags and film were recycled, a 27‐percent increase from 2005. Photo:

“A lot of people now bring their own bag,” said Heather Trim, of People for Puget Sound and the Green Bag Campaign, in an interview with SeattlePI. “We’ve had a huge surge of awareness. This is only going to help.”

Additionally, recycling both paper and plastic bags continues to be a simple way to reduce energy consumption and potential waste associated with new, disposable bags. According to PlasticsNews, in the last two years, four states — California, New York, Rhode Island and Delaware; five cities — Tucson, Chicago, New York, San Juan Capistrano, Calif. and Red Bank, N.J.; and five counties in New York — Albany, Nassau, Rockland, Suffolk and Westchester, have enacted mandatory plastic bag recycling.

Seattle Pubic Utilities estimates that 360 million disposable bags are used in the city each year.

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