Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Much Ado About a 20 cent Fee You Can Easily Avoid

I addressed the proposed 20 cent bag tax that Seattle finally ended up passing in July here. Since then apparently a petition drive has been organized by the Coalition to Stop the Seattle Bag Tax. To this end they have gathered over 20,000 signatures to get an initiative on the ballot. They need 14,374 valid signature to get on the ballot so with the 20K they probably have the buffer they need to get into the next election after the November 4, 2008 election. There has been a minor controversy about the use of paid signature gatherers that may be lying about the petition being PRO bag tax and not ANTI to collect signatures. The CtStSBT is apparently mainly a front for the American Chemistry Council which is the lobbying arm of the plastics industry. The ACC picked up most of the costs of the paid signature gatherers and the web site linked to above.

Personally I am kind of amuse by the hysteria of the CtStSBT and their frantic attempt to stop the bag tax from going into effect. It seems to me the arguments against the bag tax can be boiled down into:

1) Its an unfair burden on the poor. It will cost them $300 a year that they can't afford.
While its true that poor people can ill afford to lose $300 to a bag tax all they really have to do is invest $5.00 in some reusable bags that will last them for years. I'm pretty sure that Seattle is going to be sending out free reusable bags in the near future anyway.

2)The City's own research shows that 91% of Seattle's citizens reuse or recycle their bags.

Hey that's great. We Seattlites always have been good recyclers, it's good to know that we are really kicking ass on reusing/recycling our plastic bags. I don't know what percentage reuse as opposed to recycle but it would be better for the environment and more energy efficient for the recycled bags to never have been made in the first place. I reuse my plastic grocery bags as garbage bags and to scoop kitty litter but I'm not going to freak out if I have to start buying garbage bags or some other small plastic bags to use instead.

This next one I've seen in the PI Sound Off section a couple of times (go down a few comments) but not on any anti-bag tax web sites:

3) The bag tax is a health hazard.
Seattle bag tax is health hazard especially for low income families. When meat is carried home in a reusable bag one day (and it leaks) and then vegetables are carried home the next day you get cross contamination. With reusable bags, you create a breeding ground for bacteria which will quickly build up to extremely dangerous levels (especially if the bags are kept in warm areas between uses) which can also contaminate other customers food items. Since the poor are less likely to pay the 20 cent bag tax, they are the ones most at risk - as well as those who are buying groceries behind them.

Ok, I'm no expert on bacteria, or leaking meat containers but this argument just seems silly to me. If meat leaking on vegetables was a huge health hazard I think we would have heard about massive outbreaks of death by now. I have been reusing both paper bags and cloth bags for a while now and I haven't noticed any meat leakage or any bacterial growth so far. I also figure if I my cloth bags got messy I'd just, well... clean them.

Look, I'm not a huge proponent of the bag tax but it seems to be a step in the right direction. I mean how many more people recycle now that it is mandatory then when it was a voluntary program. Even when it was voluntary the city "encouraged" people to recycle by making the recycle pick-up fees cheaper than regular garbage. Sometimes people have to be guided into doing the right thing. The plastic bag tax is not incredible burdensome and all you have to do to avoid it is to bring your own bag when you go grocery shopping. I think its a small price to pay to take a small step towards reducing waste and encouraging people to step out of the "disposable mindset" we find ourselves in these days.

Oh yeah and I'm also pretty cynical about the involvement of the American Chemical Council who's motives seem to by quite transparent.

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