Petition drive fails, Seattle plastic bag ban moving forward

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SEATTLE (Jan. 18, 1:15 p.m. ET) — A petition drive to gather enough signatures to put the recently-enacted Seattle plastic bag ban to a vote has failed, clearing the way for the ban to go into effect July 1, as scheduled.

Activist Craig Keller was only able to gather some 3,000 signatures — far less than the 16,500 needed — by the Jan. 17 deadline for placing a referendum on the August ballot. That’s a sharp contrast to three years ago when a petition drive led to a voter referendum that overturned a planned 20-cent fee on plastic bags that Seattle city council had voted to put into place on single-use plastic carryout bags.

The failure of the petition drive means that Seattle will become the third largest city in the United States with a ban on single-use plastic carryout bags. Seattle is the 23rd largest city in the U.S. with an estimated population of 610,000. The largest city in the U.S. with a plastic bag ban is San Jose, which is the 10th largest city in the U.S. with an estimated population of 950,000.

San Francisco, the nation’s 13th largest city with a population of 805,000, is the second-largest city with a plastic bag ban. That ban has been in effect since 2007. Altogether 35 communities in the U.S. have plastic bag bans and three more have placed fees on plastic bags handed out at carryout.

Three other cities in the state of Washington have a ban on plastic bags: Edmonds, Bellingham and Mukilteo.

What’s more, looming on the state legislative horizon are two bills to ban plastic carryout bags and place a 5-cent fee on all paper bags handed out at retail.

Democratic Senators Maralyn Chase and Adam Kline have introduced S5780 which would ban plastic carryout bags statewide and require retailers to hand out only paper, compostable plastic and reusable bags.

Likewise, Democratic State Representatives Joe Fitzgibbon and Marko Liias have introduced HB 1877—a similar measure that would additionally place a 5-cent fee on paper bags handed out at retail and also bar the use of compostable plastic bags.

That House bill will have its first hearing Jan. 20 in the House Environment Committee.

The largest U.S. plastic bag manufacturer, Hilex Poly Co. LLC, which is based in Hartsville, S.C., has already testified against the Senate bill.

“Washington residents interested in reducing litter and protecting the environment would be far better served supporting a statewide recycling program rather than an all-out ban on retail plastic carry-out bags [as that is] a policy which will only push consumers to alternatives that are less sustainable,” said Mark Daniels, vice president of sustainability and environmental policy for Hilex Poly.

“The truth is banning one product that makes only one to two percent of litter will have no meaningful impact on litter,” said Daniels. “Instead, it will result in forcing consumers to use products such as reusable bags, which are mostly imported from China, made from foreign oil and are not recyclable, or to use paper bags, which have a larger carbon footprint than plastic bags.”

“There is a better way,” said Daniels. “Washington has the opportunity to show real environmental leadership and enact a comprehensive recycling plan that actually reduces litter, saves American jobs and protects consumer choice.”

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