NOTES FROM A SEATTLE BAG BAN!!!


(photo courtesy of Seattle.gov)

About twenty Surfrider volunteers joined People for Puget Sound, the Sierra Club, Environment Washington, and numerous private citizens to support the proposed ban on single-use plastic bags in Seattle at the Seattle city council meeting on December 5th, 2011. You can watch the public hearing here, if you so desire.

Four city council members were in attendance, with the sponsor of the proposed ban, Mike O’Brien, moderating the meeting. Surfrider’s Shannon Serrano started off the hearing with a brief explanation of what Surfrider stands for and who we are, followed by our reasons for wanting to ban the bag. Much of the testimony that followed Shannon’s was along the same lines: love for the ocean and a desire to share it with future generations combined with a strong sense of personal responsibility towards the environment and a belief that our daily choices affect the world around us. Speakers also made points about cutting down the city’s waste stream, saving money, reducing dependence on fossil fuels, toxic compounds leaching from plastic bags, and the ease of using reusable bags. Both the Seattle Restaurant Alliance and the NW Grocery Association (which includes QFC, Fred Meyers, and Safeway) spoke out in support of the proposed ban (both organizations were a part of the development of the ban), because it includes provisions for lower-income groups and because it’s not limited to just grocery stores–  it includes other retail outlets, which is similar to what is being proposed in San Francisco, as an update to their seminal bag ban. A gentleman from the Grocery Worker’s union spoke in support of the ban, saying that he felt that while it might impact the grocery baggers’ productivity, they supported the ban as it was a step in the right direction.

There was opposition, too. The majority of the opposition were employed by the plastics industry; a few spoke rather forcefully about their personal desire to continue using plastic bags for “free” or missed the point entirely by focusing on the evils of paper bags. There was also some discussion by the opposition about increasing recycling, although it’s clear that a bag ban will in no way decrease the amount of recycling done in Seattle– but will actually increase its efficiency.

One of my favorite moments in the hearing was when a whole family came up to give testimony in support of the ban. The children had asked that their mother and father to bring them to the hearing because they thought it was “ridiculous to use a material that endures forever for single use disposable items”. The mother spoke for her daughters when she said they were upset about the pacific garbage patch and they wanted to reduce their impact on the ocean. A student from the University of Washington spoke eloquently about how this law would help her generation change cultural norms and behaviors, and so many people spoke about taking responsibility for their own impacts on the planet.

The satisfaction I feel is not without a little bit irony.  Industry opposition defeated a bag ban by pouring more than a million dollars into misinformation campaigns just a few years ago.  Well, this time we’re going to win, and we’re going to win way bigger than we won three years ago and it’s nice to know that no matter how much money industry spends, they can’t stop the wave of common sense policies around disposable plastics.  The tide has turned, and we’re riding it.  For ordinance language, click here.

Abigail McCarthy, Seattle Surfrider Foundation Chapter.

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