Seattle Considers "Green Fee"

Seattle Voters Reject Bag Fee

Last modified on August 21, 2009 by Site Administrator

On August 18th, Seattle voters rejected the 20-cent grocery bag tax/fee. Voters opposed the ordinance by a large margin, 58 percent to 42 percent. Neither paper nor plastic bags will be taxed at grocery checkout lines. A similar policy, banning styrofoam containers, was not on the ballot for referendum and will remain in effect.

Issue Goes to Voters in August

Last modified on July 7, 2009 by Site Administrator

No Litter or Landfill Problem in Seattle
For years, the City of Seattle has been proactive in exploring ways to accelerate its recycling and waste reduction programs. King County’s Solid Waste Division relied upon a 2006 report by its Waste Monitoring Program to assess the quantity and composition of materials that enter the city waste stream. The study reported that of the 410,000 tons of incoming commingled recyclables from residential and commercial sources, plastic grocery bags accounted for 0.2% (874.5 tons) and paper bags comprised 16.6% (67,980 tons) of the material processed. Plastic grocery bags were not recyclable at two of the county’s four processing facilities, which explains its low recycling rate. The same study reported that plastic grocery bags accounted for 0.4% (113.9 tons) and paper bags comprised 3.1% (908.9 tons) of the 29,600 tons of incoming residual material sent to landfills.

That year, Seattle Public Utilities conducted a Residential Waste Stream Composition Study and explored several alternatives to reduce residential waste. These included options to boost plastic bag recycling programs, create a deposit system, work with retailers to reduce plastic bag use, and ban the use of polystyrene food containers among other proposals. However, the report did not include sufficient detail to evaluate the environmental impacts and cost of exercising these options and the Herrera Environmental Consultants were commissioned by the city to develop an extensive report on the matter in January 2008. The study noted that the use of reusable bags provided substantial environmental benefits (if reused) and that providing free plastic bags left no incentive for consumers to reduce their use even though plastic bags accounted for less than a percentage of the city’s landfills.

A Leader in the Plastic Bag Movement
In April 2008, Mayor Gregory Nickerson and City Council President Richard sponsored a program to reduce plastic and paper bags from the city’s waste stream by placing a 20-cent Green Fee on all disposable bags distributed by large grocery, drug and convenience stores. The city planned to collect 15 cents of this fee and spend it towards waste prevention, recycling, city cleanup and environmental education programs. The remaining 5 cents would be given to retailers to cover administrative expenses. If implemented, Seattle Public Utilities estimates that the city would collect $10 million a year from the bag fee.

Seattle has been at the forefront of the bag tax issue for over a year now and a number of countries and municipalities have adopted similar bans or taxes that vary by store size, reporting, bag type, and fee requirements. In most cases, the motive behind bag bans and taxes is to solve a perceived litter or pollution problem. Yet these problems are non-existent in Seattle, which was ranked in the top three cleanest cities in America last year. As mentioned earlier, plastic bags comprise 0.4% of the Seattle’s landfill and it is debatable to claim that taxing disposable bags will save landfill space or have some significant environmental gain. Our conclusion is that the tax will have little (if any) effect on the environment and may waste resources that could be better used elsewhere. For details, please read our Green Fee Analysis.

In July 2008, the Seattle City Council passed the 20-cent fee (Ordinance #122752) and was ready to implement the program starting January 2009. However, the Coalition to stop the Seattle Bag Tax— whose membership is comprised of 7-Eleven Inc. and the Progressive Bag Affiliates of the American Chemistry Council— successfully repealed the bag tax ordinance by dedicating $239,000 to a campaign that collected 20,000 signatures of valid Seattle voters to turn the decision over to voters in the upcoming primary election. Residents will vote for or against the Green Fee on August 18, 2009. Supporters of the bag fee include the BYOB (Bring your own bag) organization and the Green Bag Campaign, which raised nearly $10,000 last month. Opponents of the fee include the Washington Food Industry and the Coalition to Stop the Seattle Bag Tax.

Seattle Voters Divided Over Referendum 1
Surveys conducted last year indicate that a paper and plastic bag tax would be largely unpopular with the public. A poll funded by Seattle Public Utilities showed that 63% of residents opposed a tax on paper and those that strongly opposed the tax (23%) outweighed those who strongly supported it (13%). The same poll revealed that 87% of respondents supported recycling programs and believed the city should require grocery stores to implement bag recycling programs. Currently, in-store plastic bag programs are not available in all major grocery stores.

In late June, Survey USA interviewed over a thousand Seattle adults and surveyed 500 who identified themselves as registered voters likely to vote in the primary. Results indicated that 47% of respondents would vote for the Green Fee, 46% would not, and 7% were undecided. A more recent pollpoll identified a growing opposition of 51% among citizens. Further, the P.I. anticipated that older voters, who generally oppose the Bag Fee, are more likely to show up to vote. Support for the fee was highest among voters that are young, liberal, Democrat or hold college degrees. Opposition to the fee was strongest among older, conservative, Republican or those without college educations. However, the group warned that ballot measures are typically more volatile than candidate elections and future poll results may show a shift in opinion as voters focus more on the issue.

News Articles from the Seattle Times and the PI

Seattle voters don't buy shopping-bag charge from the Seattle Times, August 19, 2009
Seattle voters rejected a 20 cent fee on disposable bags in grocery, drug and convenience stores. If approved, the legislation, would have placed Seattle as the only city in the world to tax both paper and plastic. The tax was defeated 58% to 42%, thereby overturning the City Council's decision to implement a bag fee last year.

Poll: Seattle disposable bag tax is going down from the Seattle P.I., July 17, 2009
A newer poll conduct by Survey U.S.A. shows that the Seattle bag fee and Styrofoam ban is losing popularity among voters. The ordinance is now opposed by 51%.

Poll: Seattle may say 'no' to grocery bag tax from the Seattle P.I, June 20, 2009.
"A new Survey USA poll done for KING5 TV shows that Seattleites may finally say 'no' to a tax proposal..."

Ready for clean break with single-use bags? from the Seattle Times, January 31, 2009
Tom Watson of King County's Recycling and Environmental Services provides a general overview of frequently asked questions on the Seattle bag tax.

Group opposing bag fees collects needed signatures from the Seattle PI, September 15, 2008
The Coalition to Stop the Seattle Bag Tax collected 15,099 valid signatures -- enough signatures for the issue to appear in the primary election in 2009. The group collected a total of 22,000 names on the petition in less than two weeks although they only needed 14,374 for the referendum to qualify for a future ballot.

Seattle grocery-bag fee to go to citizen vote from the Seattle Times, September 15,2008
It has been confirmed that the Coalition to Stop the Seattle Bag Tax gathered the minimum number of verified signatures to stop the "Green Fee" until it appears on next year's ballot. During that time, Seattle voters will reject or ratify the Green Fee.

Effort to overturn 20-cent bag tax moves forward from the Seattle PI, August 25, 2008
The Coalition to Stop the Seattle Bag Tax has successfully turned over 20,000 signatures to the City Clerk in an effort to get the proposed measure of implementing in-store recycling programs on the ballot. The group remains under scrutiny by various environmental groups in Seattle which oppose the involvement of the American Chemistry Council's Plastics Division.

Food industry seeks signatures to toss city's bag fee from the Seattle PI, August 12, 2008
The Washington Food Industry and others who make up the Coalition to Stop the Seattle Bag Tax has launched an effort to annul the recently approved bag tax and styrofoam ban. However, the group faces tough challenges: they will need over 14,000 signatures by August 28th for the petition to make it onto the ballot.

Why Seattle's bag tax is a bad idea from the Seattle Times, July 30, 2008
Peter Nickerson describes why Seattle's proposed tax on disposable bags and ban of polystyrene ("styrofoam") containers is bad public policy. More of Peter's work on the Seattle bag tax and foam ban is accessible through his letter to the Seattle City Council and Green Fee Analysis.

Grocery bag fee headed to full council from the Seattle PI, July 22, 2008
This article from the Seattle PI describes the impact that the bag tax and Styrofoam ban will have on food banks, grocers, restaurants and the general Seattle community. It also provides dates for upcoming city council meetings, a breakdown of the proposed ‘Green Fee’ and comments from various local businessmen.

A cleaner Seattle is worth 20 cents a bag from the Seattle Times, July 14, 2008
Mayor Greg Nickels’ reasons behind the proposed ‘Green Fee’ are expressed in this Seattle Times article. Following Ireland’s lead in taxing disposable bags, Nickels hopes to reduce litter and encourage reusing bags and Styrofoam containers. However, Nickels fails to address how Seattle's litter problem is insignificant in comparison to Ireland's and

Sound off on plastic bag fee tonight from the Seattle PI, July 9, 2008
A short article inviting the community to attend the public hearing on plastic bags and Styrofoam containers.

Seattle may impose fee for paper, plastic grocery bags from the Seattle Times, July 8, 2008
This Seattle Times article describes how local restaurants such as Toshio’s Teriyaki will be affected by the ‘Green Fee’. The article mentions several other cities considering a similar ban or tax on bags and containers and describes the tax’s ultimate goal of reducing trash.

Related News Articles from Other Sources

The Bag Tax Rebellion from Crosscut, November 15, 2008
This short article by Knute Berger looks at both sides of the bag tax and questions why City Hall's battle against grocery bags has taken precedence over more pressing wars that plague the city, such as transportation and pollution problems. The article cites that if implemented, the bag tax will only reduce the city's landfill by half the amount of garbage used in one day-- a change too small to make a lasting difference.

Paper Or Plastic? It’ll Cost You from Newsweek, August 30, 2008
Sarah Kliff discusses the negative implications of the "Green Fee" and how it is bad public policy that places a burden on consumers and businesses. Even those who consider themselves green environmentalists argue that the tax may ultimately result in a bigger pollution problem in the long run.

Opinion Editorial by Jan Gee from the Robinson Newspaper, August 19, 2008
Jan Gee, president of the Washington Food Industry and member of the Coalition To Stop The Seattle Bag Tax, explains viable alternatives that the City of Seattle should consider in lieu of a "green fee". Key elements of the campaign include a rebate for consumers who bring in reusable bags as well as placing reminders and recycle bins for consumers to voluntarily return and recycle bags.

Group Seeks Bag Fee Repealed from the Ballard News Tribune, August 18, 2008
The Coalition to Stop the Seattle Bag Tax is under tight deadlines but has been gaining support in recent weeks. The organization aims to inform the public of the new tax and get people educated and involved in recycling programs.

Grocers Say It's Time for City of Seattle to Help -- not Tax -- Citizens to Reduce... from Reuters, July 22, 2008
Seattle's independent grocers are protesting the proposed tax on plastic bags and argue that alternatives, such as providing a small per-bag rebate, in-store recycling bins and education, would be preferable over an outright tax. The Washington Food Industry has recently been working on model recycling programs with the likes of the Metropolitan Market and states, "our proposal is about doing the right thing for the environment, our stores, our employees and our customers."

League of Women Voters Program - Summer 2009
The League of Women Voters is a non-partisan political organization that sponsors candidate debates, public forums and ballot issue forums. This document contains basic information about Referendum 1 and introduces the parties on both sides of the campaign to tax disposable shopping bags.

>For more information, visit our References page  

Seattle City Council Resources

Read the City Council's proposeal to ban styrofoam containers and tax disposable shopping bags by clicking here.