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Northwest Voices

Seattle Times letters to the editor

August 4, 2009 at 4:00 PM

Bag tax or fee: What is it and will it work?

Looming disaster in the grocery checkout line

Editor, The Times:

Rather than a fee or a tax, I think the proposed bag charge will be a logistic nightmare.

I keep reusable totes in the trunk of my car and take them with me into the store most of the time, so I’m not too worried about the implications of this program on my personal grocery bill. I do, however, remember the times when I forgot to request paper and watched as a young bagger placed an array of plastic bags containing one to four items each into my cart.

How will this fee/tax be charged? Will the checker have to wait until all the bags are packed, count them, add the result to the bill and then let the customer pay? How will the lines in the store be affected? Will the people waiting in the lines with their canvas bags stand patiently? How will the poor checkers — those people on the front lines — be treated because of all this?

I think it’s a bad idea that will become an even worse practice.

— Laurie Boatsman, Lake Forest Park

At co-op store, a lesson in shopping bags

Madison Market, one of the oldest cooperative grocery stores in Seattle, charges all customers 10 cents if they wish to have a large plastic bag at the checkout counter. And these plastic-bag sales are very slow, since most customers already have the good sense to bring their own cloth bags.

Madison Market quietly leads the way as an isle of tranquillity in Seattle’s latest tempest in a teapot where the burning issue seems to be: Is it a fee or a tax?

I will vote to reject the new fee/tax because the business model at Madison Market proves that informed shoppers can handle the plastic-bag controversy quite well — without governmental intervention.

— Virgil Howard, Seattle

Misleading claims from American Chemistry Council

I question the American Chemistry Council’s motives in providing $1.4 million in funding toward stopping the Seattle bag tax.

This lobbying organization provides partial information on issues impacting member companies’ earnings. It has funded limited studies on the use of BPA, an estrogen mimic, in plastic bottles and containers. In the past year, independent scientific panels have examined all studies on BPA’s human health risks and noted the inadequate design of the ACC-funded studies, making them outliers that downplay BPA’s risk.

Other incomplete ACC studies claim little harm to the environment and energy use from plastic-bag manufacture, use and recycling. The focus should be on a complete life-cycle analysis, including source reduction, something the ACC never mentions.

Source reduction — making fewer bags to begin with — would mean less use of raw materials and energy in manufacture, less energy used in collecting and transporting bags for recycling and no energy or factories needed for remanufacturing.

The ACC campaign and sometimes The Seattle Times’ columns have focused on the fee’s impact on the poor. Seattleites are creative folks — they can find ways to help people keep track of their reusable totes.

Seattle’s tax is simply an opportunity to show leadership in benefiting the environment.

— Lee Magid, Gig Harbor

The poor should have no problem handling the bag tax

Republicans say Democrats fail to encourage personal responsibility. A recent column [“Who’s left holding the bag fee,” NWWednesday, July 29] by Danny Westneat provides a perfect example.

CAMP, the Central Area Motivation Program, joined the chemical industry in opposing a plastic-bag fee because it says the tax would adversely impact poor people. It’s just too much to ask that poor people remember a bag when they shop, and so they will get charged for them. That’s the reasoning — from a “motivation” program.

It took me months to get used to bringing bags when I shop, but given a little time, even harried old dogs can master new tricks. My tricks all aim to get around forgetfulness and inconvenience.

First, I have a plastic grocery bag or two comes folded into little triangles in the bottom of my purse.

Second, I use a bag donated by a nonprofit that tucks inside itself and clips onto my bicycle.

Third, I leave canvas bags prominently near my front door where I get annoyed enough at tripping over them that I put them in the trunk.

And finally, I locate bag-recycling bins at my grocery stores.

It’s time to stop the utter condescension that says harried poor people can’t learn new tricks, too.

— Valerie Tarico, Seattle

Seattle lagging behind foreign cities on bag-use reduction

According to the National Resources Defense Council, Seattle is the most sustainable city in the nation, a title we are proud of. We have many accomplishments on the green front, but in one striking area, we are far behind the rest of the world: disposable-bag use.

The average American uses 600 disposable bags every year, meaning we as a city use 360 million bags annually. As we continue this wasteful habit, the density of plastic in the North Pacific Garbage Patch has doubled from 1998 to 2008, and 100,000 marine mammals continue to die every year because of plastic.

Elsewhere in the world, after discovering severe flooding was due to storm drains blocked with plastic bags, Bangladesh banned them in the capital in 2002. That same year, Ireland placed a fee on plastic bags, causing bag use to drop by 90 percent in the first month.

Seattle has an opportunity to join the rest of the world and prove our title as the most sustainable U.S. city by passing Referendum 1, the 20-cent fee on disposable bags. We cannot call ourselves environmentalists and use 360 million disposable bags every year.

— Ursula Sandstrom, Seattle

Comments | More in Environment, Seattle, Taxes

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