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Seattle Voters Reject Bag Tax
Volume 637
August 20, 2009

In an all-mail referendum held this week, Seattle residents soundly voted against adding a 20-cent fee for every paper or plastic bag used in checkout in supermarkets, drug stores and convenience stores. The vote nullifies a city ordinance that was set to take effect in January. "It would appear that in the minds of residents, it's an ongoing battle of economics versus eco-responsibility," says Christopher Duffy, vice president of marketing for Counselor Top 40 supplier Bag Makers (asi/37940). "Like the failure of a similar initiative in California, consumers just aren't interested in another tax in a troubled economy."

With most ballots counted, 58% of Seattle voters rejected the bag tax, which was staunchly opposed by the plastics industry. Led by the Progressive Bag Affiliates, an arm of the Virginia-based American Chemistry Council, the plastics industry significantly outspent tax supporters in an anti-fee campaign.

Under the ordinance, small stores would have kept the entire 20-cent fee, while stores with gross sales of more than $1 million annually would have kept five cents. The remaining money would have gone to Seattle recycling and environmental education programs. Supporters had argued the fee would have cut down on pollution and encouraged more reusable bags, providing suppliers and distributors a greater market for eco-friendly bags.

Several states, including Colorado and Texas, have debated bag bans or fees this year, but no legislation has been enacted. Washington, D.C. recently passed a five cent fee on paper and plastic bags, but New York City dropped a proposed five cent bag fee in June. There are currently nine bags bans in effect around the country, the most notable of which is in San Francisco.

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