Seattle 'bag tax' In the bag? Not exactly ...

Despite initial support, Seattle residents recently voted down a proposal that would have taxed plastic and paper shopping bags. The initiative, based on similar, successful programs elsewhere in the the U.S. and around the world, would have slapped a 20-cent "bag tax" on each plastic or paper bag a shopper requested.

But by some accounts, the tax would have cost shoppers an extra $300 a year (although the particular critic cited in the link is a grocery trade magazine; the grocery industry generally doesn't like these kinds of regulations).

While $300 per shopper per year sounds like a lot, the real purpose of the tax is to create a deterrent so citizens aren't bringing home a slew of bags after every trip to the supermarket or discount store.

Various cities and states in recent years have attempted to develop legislation that would address the issue of the ubiquitous bags. Detractors' objections to them are numerous and based on both environmental as well as economic concerns: Fewer than 5% of them are recycled, they clutter landfills and they're made from petroleum, a nonrenewable resource.

Last year, the New York Times wrote about how a similar bag tax in Ireland produced a 94% drop in plastic-bag usage within weeks of its implementation. San Francisco flat-out banned the bags in 2007, which led to 5 million fewer bags being used per month. Los Angeles is phasing out plastic bags next year; shoppers will be charged a quarter per bag for a paper or degradable plastic bag. Seattle's proposed tax was broader than most in that it applied to paper as well as plastic bags. Other municipalities have experimented with taxes or bans with varying degrees of success.

The plastic industry, unsurprisingly, opposes the initiatives. It charges that paper bags, although easier to recycle, consume more resources to produce. Environmentally speaking, the plastic-vs.-paper debate is kind of a red herring; the really "green" option is fabric totes.

If you say "plastic" when the grocery clerk asks how you'd like your milk and tomatoes bagged, we want to hear from you in the Comments section: After you get home, do you throw them out, reuse them or recycle them? (This blogger keeps a stash on hand for pooper-scooping; with two pets, a few bags on hand is a necessity.) And more importantly, do you think a 20-cent-per-bag fee would change your mind?
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