Palo Alto, Calif., and Edmonds, Wash., have joined a small but growing list of communities that will be enacting bans on plastic carryout bags. But all eyes in the next two weeks will be on Seattle, where the American Chemistry Council has spent nearly $1.4 million in an effort to convince voters to reject a 20-cent fee on single-use grocery bags.
That compares to $64,000 that has been raised by the Seattle Green Bag campaign, the primary group supporting the referendum to reduce the estimated 360 million bags used in the city annually.
The ACC is attempting to intimidate policy makers nationwide by demonstrating their ability to overwhelm local grassroots, said Brady Montz, chairman of the Seattle chapter of the Sierra Club and spokesman for Seattle Green Bag. This level of spending is indicative of the disregard that they have for democracy and the public interest worldwide.
The financial stakes in Seattle ratcheted up between July 17 and July 22 when ACC, through its Progressive Bag Affiliates unit, made contributions totaling $1.05 million to the Coalition to Stop the Seattle Bag Tax. Much of that money is expected to go for radio, Internet and newspaper ads and direct-mail efforts.
That dwarfs the $20,000 given to the coalition by its second-largest contributor, convenience store chain 7-Eleven Inc.
[We want] to ensure that all Seattle residents are aware of the Aug. 18 vote and the efficacy of recycling as an alternative to a tax, PBA said in a statement issued by the Arlington, Va.-based ACC.
A July 17 survey, conducted by King 5/Survey USA, showed that 51 percent of Seattle residents are against the fee and 42 percent are in favor. Critically, among voters 50 and older who tend to have high turnouts in primary elections 57 percent are against the fee.
Seattle's fee would apply to all grocery stores, drug stores and convenience stores. If voters approve, Seattle would be the third major U.S. city to restrict plastic bags: San Francisco banned plastic bags in 2007, and Washington, D.C., in June approved a 5-cent tax on all paper and plastic carryout bags at grocery stores, drug stores, and retail food establishments that will go into effect Jan. 1.
Earlier this summer, efforts to enact a 25-cent fee on plastic carryout bags in California failed.
Recycling is a practical, working solution for reducing waste from shopping bags that is good for the environment and won't tax struggling families, said Steve Russell, managing director of ACC's plastics division, in a prepared statement. We want Seattle residents to know that many area grocers already offer programs that allow shoppers to bring back their plastic shopping bags, dry-cleaning bags, newspaper bags and many types of product wraps for recycling.
Edmonds, a town of 40,000 on the Puget Sound that houses a marine sanctuary, approved a bag ban on July 28. It will apply to all retail stores, but is not scheduled to go into effect until Aug. 27, 2010, so that stores can work through existing inventory, and the city and stores can start an educational/public awareness campaign, and to make sure we have as smooth of a transition as possible, said council member Strom Peterson. Peterson spearheaded the ban.
Palo Alto's ban, initially approved March 30, will go into effect as scheduled Sept. 18, because the city reached an out-of-court settlement on July 28 with the Save the Plastic Bag Coalition, which had sued to stop the ban.
The Save the Plastic Bag Coalition also has a lawsuit against Los Angeles County to prevent a planned ban which still must be approved next year.
In addition to Palo Alto and Edmonds, three coastal counties on the Outer Banks in North Carolina and two small Alaskan towns have enacted bans on plastic bags in the past four weeks, bringing the number of bans in the United States to 11.
Westport, Conn., and the California cities of San Francisco, Fairfax and Malibu also have bans on plastic carryout bags. A ban on plastic bags in Manhattan Beach, Calif., that covered 217 stores and restaurants was overturned, pending an appeal.
But the largest stakes right now for the industry clearly are in Seattle, where the Stop the Seattle Bag Tax Coalition is reminding voters that a city survey from 2007 found that residents are opposed to a tax and that 91 percent of residents said they recycled plastic bags.
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