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Monday, April 7, 2008

As Usual, It All Comes Back to Our Limp Legislature

posted by on April 7 at 15:30 PM

ECB started a shitstorm last week when she gave good Slog to Mayor Nickels for his grocery bag tax. The shitstorm? It’s apparently unfair to the working class.

Perfect, two progressive constituencies (environmentalists and The PEOPLE) pitted against each other while the system, the MAN!, has at us.

Here’s how to avoid the whole problem—after all, I’m not sure twenty cents (which probably will hurt struggling families)—is simultaneously enough of an incentive to make people get cloth bags or scale back on grocery store bags. I guess they could try buying fewer bags of Funyuns and cans of Manwich.

Anyway, here’s the way to go: Do what the legislature proposed doing, but then chickened out on, earlier this year: Outlaw the bags. That way, no one’s paying extra and no one’s using the bags.

RSS icon Comments


it's easier to pass something that encourages behavior in the form of a tax rather than a prohibition completely.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | April 7, 2008 3:33 PM

Your funyon/manwich comment belies your prejudice against the working poor. How progressive of you.

Posted by prick | April 7, 2008 3:34 PM

You took the bait, simpleton. God, you all are easy.

Posted by Josh Feit | April 7, 2008 3:39 PM

What BA said. Also, it makes it easier to repeal and politicians can backpedal to their angry constituents.

Posted by laterite | April 7, 2008 3:41 PM

what number 2 says. good riddance josh.

Posted by cochise. | April 7, 2008 3:41 PM

Does Erica and Josh write the stuff for the "Uptight Seattlite" in the Seattle Weekly?

Posted by Just Wondering | April 7, 2008 3:41 PM

Yup, no bags. Just stuff the shit down your pants. Makes sense to me.

Posted by Fifty-Two-Eighty | April 7, 2008 3:47 PM

@3, how *clever* of you to include bait in your post. I understand Rush Limbaugh is always looking for *funny* douchebags like you to write his stuff.

Posted by prick | April 7, 2008 3:49 PM

Misapplied snark, sir.

Posted by laterite | April 7, 2008 3:55 PM

In Europe they just don't hand out free bags. If you find yourself at the grocery store without bags you have to buy them.

And Europe is obsesssed with the struggling 'working classes'.

But gimme a goddamn break... Buying like 8 bags for maybe $1.50 each which will be good for a long time? $12 a year in bag-tax? Such whining is completely ridiculous.

Posted by John | April 7, 2008 3:57 PM

i've yet to see anyone represent "the people" in this argument who actually are the people. honestly, i've only seen those who think this is the government telling/forcing us how to live say, "but it's unfair to the poor."

poor and rich alike have to pay for the actual cost of something. both have been getting a free ride on plastic bags, and it has to stop.

Posted by infrequent | April 7, 2008 3:58 PM

often poor, "food insecure", households make decisions to buy food like funions and manwich. its cheap, filling, and tasty. its also why we see "obesity" linked to food insecurity. this article talks about coping mechanisms. as well, food along with smoking and drinking can be a coping mechanism for life stress that disparately affects the low income.

Posted by Jiberish | April 7, 2008 4:07 PM

I got an idea - don't outlaw the bags.

Instead, make it a refundable deposit - say 10 cents a bag.

You bring back a bag, you pay 0 cents.

You don't brink back a bag, you pay 10 cents.

Problem solved.

And, bonus points, poor people can replace theirs dumpster diving in the recycle bins of people who don't bring back bags.

Posted by Will in Seattle | April 7, 2008 4:08 PM

I was thinking about this measure the other day when I bought 3 items for lunch at Ralph's. They asked me if I wanted a bag, I said no as I didn't really need one. What if did? I'm not really in the mood to be buying a resuable bag at every store I go to that sells groceries. I'm not going to carry a reusable bag everywhere I go every day. I don't think I would really care about paying 20 cents for a bag at Ralph's, but I'm in the minority there. So we start paying 20 extra cents more frequently. Problem not solved.

Posted by Keith | April 7, 2008 4:09 PM

ps i also support either banning or taxing the bags...even though they can be useful

Posted by Jiberish | April 7, 2008 4:09 PM

flaccid is a much better word.

Posted by michael strangeways | April 7, 2008 4:12 PM

Well, when you're using CoinStar for grocery money, every penny counts. Your Manwich joke shows you've never been that low...that shit costs like $3 per can. I've been there before, and I'd be pissed if my bologney money was being wasted on City Hall's latest attempt at social engineering.

Posted by nic | April 7, 2008 4:14 PM

Oh dear - I leave town and miss a good grocery bag vs. the people arguement.

Decades ago, we had a similar moronic debate back in Iowa when they adopted the nickel deposit on cans and bottles. Grocery store spokespeople and other special interest shills shed photogenic tears and spoke tenderly about "working families" and what a burden it would be on them.

It was all bullshit of course: Almost overnight, the park by our house got 90% cleaner, and real lower income folks (children, college kids, seniors) had a new source of income by picking up cans.

Of course, Iowa also jettisoned the idiotic state run liquor stores at about the same time, and we're nowhere near doing that here, so I don't have much hope for getting rid of the bags. I do like Will's idea, however. We'd just need thicker bags, because the ones they give out now hardly last until you get home.

Posted by Catalina Vel-DuRay | April 7, 2008 4:18 PM

A very high percentage (easily 90% or more) of my grocery shopping is done after hopping off the bus on the way home after work. Does anyone really think I'm going to walk around all day with a bunch of bags just so I can use them at the end of the day?

Posted by Elvis | April 7, 2008 4:22 PM

@Will in Seattle - You're from Michigan, aren't you?

When I was a kid, I used to take back all the coke bottles collected for profit! Yes, I know my parents paid for them, but still.

And, I do appreciate that reasoning. And, I hope you can return bags for recycling to get 10 cents each. That system rocked.

Posted by TheMisanthrope | April 7, 2008 4:25 PM

@17 -- did you just say the poor use coin star? well, if they counted their change they would have more than enough to pay for bags. coin star takes almost 10%!!!! every penny counts!

if every penny counted, the person would presumably make better choices. it is not the city's duty to make laws so that people can still make their poor choices.

Posted by infrequent | April 7, 2008 4:26 PM

@19: No, but you can carry around $0.20 - $0.40 with you, right?

Posted by Greg | April 7, 2008 4:28 PM


What? You're saying you don't want to carry empty bags with you all day? You're saying you don't have time to go home and then go back to the grocery store which is right next to the bus stop? Why, you live in Seattle, right? You have all the time in the world, since you take the bus which is the fastest transportation known to man, and you work in the city!


Posted by TheMisanthrope | April 7, 2008 4:33 PM

Infrequent --
No, I said I've used Coin Star. Have you ever been forced to shell out $10 in dimes and nickles with a mob of people behind you? It's fucking humiliating, due to judgemental elitists like yourself who rationalize their worldview with deserving-poor arguments such as the one you just made.

Posted by nic | April 7, 2008 4:34 PM

A ban is an attempt to control and coerce. A tax, if properly implemented, is merely an attempt to reflect the true cost of the transaction involved to the general public, and that serves the purpose just fine. Grocery bags aren't inherently evil; irresponsible and indiscriminate use of them is.

Posted by tsm | April 7, 2008 4:35 PM

Did I miss something? I thought the mayor wants to tax ALL bags while the legislature just wanted to do away with plastic ones.

Anyway, the state leg idea seems better me (cause paper decomposes much better), especially if you can dictate the percentage of post-consumer content in the paper bags. The price of extra recycled materials in the paper bags could be passed on to the consumer by retailers, ideally not passing it on to those who bring their own bag.

Posted by Trevor | April 7, 2008 4:39 PM

tax the shit out of the bags, or get rid of them. seriously I can't believe all of these people are whining that they might have to carry bags around with them. As long as the tax goes to something good and relevant, like cleaning up parks or green power or something. I'm poor as shit and I still carry my bags around. Stores are obsessed with individually bagging, and double bagging things.

Posted by poor and hate bags | April 7, 2008 4:48 PM

The real question is, WHY? Bags are trivial, and you're only talking about a portion of the bags. What about the produce bags? No one's talking about banning them.

The fact is, supermarket bags contribute ALMOST NOTHING to pollution, and banning them does ALMOST NOTHING in the real world -- but it does do a lot for the droopy egos of SUV liberals unwilling to think about real actions that matter.

Posted by Fnarf | April 7, 2008 4:52 PM

they should tax bags as a % of your final price; 1% of total per bag. 35 dollars worth of groceries, 35 cents per bag.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | April 7, 2008 4:54 PM

we should tax fnarf by the word he posts here.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | April 7, 2008 4:56 PM

ban toilet paper and susbsidize banana leaves.

Posted by SeMe | April 7, 2008 5:03 PM

Nic @ 24 -

You rock. Pity your words will fall on deaf (and appallingly elitist) ears...

Posted by Mr. X | April 7, 2008 5:05 PM

I just stopped using plastic grocery bags as soon as I found out about the mayor's plan, figuring it would be good to build the habit of carrying my own bags before I start getting charged for not doing so. And you know what? It's no big deal and it's not that inconvenient at all.

It's nothing major and it doesn't have the impact that, say, congestion pricing might have, but since the mayor is hell-bent on paying lip service to environmentalism with this proposal, might as well get used to it, because in all likelihood it will become official policy.

Posted by Hernandez | April 7, 2008 5:15 PM

Coinstar is a huge ripoff. I had a credit union once that had a free coin counting machine for members. Shouldn't any decent bank have one too? I use U.S. Bank now, but I haven't been into a branch in so long I don't know if they have them.

Posted by w7ngman | April 7, 2008 5:15 PM

please, nic is only feeling humiliated because he allows himself to be. I always took glee in using several dollars in coins to buy food when I was more poor.its a pety spiteful way to stick it to pety spiteful people

Posted by Bellevue Ave | April 7, 2008 5:18 PM

This fucking plastic bag debate is driving me crazy. I'm going to start asking stores to double bag my stuff in plastic bags with one item in each bag. I'm going to climb in my gas guzzling environment killing SUV and drive miles out of my way just to collect more plastic bags. My evil powers will grow as I collect more and more plastic bags and soon I will be kicking puppies and slapping grandmas. See, see what you are doing to me?

Posted by PopTart | April 7, 2008 5:18 PM

please, nic is only feeling humiliated because he allows himself to be. I always took glee in using several dollars in coins to buy food when I was more poor.its a pety spiteful way to stick it to pety spiteful people

Posted by Bellevue Ave | April 7, 2008 5:19 PM

#28, everyone knows taxes are a conspiracy to make the poor poorer, and everyone knows the poor don't buy produce because... they're fucking poor that's why! So there's no point in taxing produce bags.

Posted by w7ngman | April 7, 2008 5:22 PM


Posted by Bellevue Ave | April 7, 2008 5:22 PM

@20 - no, I used to collect pop bottles in Pennyslvania - got 5 cents a bottle. (yes, lived in MI and TX as well as BC).

Plus, just think of it as a tax on dog poo. Of course, this will mean more dog poo ...

Posted by Will in Seattle | April 7, 2008 6:01 PM

I started using reusable bags once stores offered cheap ones ($1) for sale. until then i had only really seen those canvas bags that last forever but cost $15.

my bags might not last indefinitely but the economic difference was astronomical, and i've been using them for a year now with no visible wear.

Posted by vooodooo84 | April 7, 2008 6:14 PM

Manwich?!? That stuff's esspensive, dude... I can tell you haven't priced a can of it lately....

A yummy yummy big ol' can o'Manwich..... mmmmmmm.........

Posted by merry | April 7, 2008 6:33 PM

Oh, hi @17....

Didn't see you standing there.....

Posted by merry | April 7, 2008 6:35 PM

@36, don't forget to blow some of that dreaded second-hand smoke in their faces while you're at it.

Posted by Fifty-Two-Eighty | April 7, 2008 7:02 PM

nic, please! you too, mr x. i've been poor and i've counted out ten dollars in change before. when every penny counts, you make every penny count. or at least, you should. the only judging here is you two judging me. get off it and get over yourselves.

i want everyone to pay the true cost. sure it's not much (and fnarf, i'm all for more being done; more that matters), but it's a start.

coin star! you're too embarrassed to pay with change? i would separate dollars into each pocket. a dollar of dimes in the left front jean, a dollar of nickels in the right front jean, two dollars in quarters in the right jacket, etc...

you don't get out of paying the cost of something because you are "forced" to use coin star because you're too embarrassed to pay with change.

it's just and excuse. and mr. x is the worst. this is not a negative. it is not a regressive tax. it is not even a tax on the lazy. it's responsible capitalism.

Posted by infrequent | April 7, 2008 7:48 PM

and any you fuckers listen to NPR today? they make plastic grocery bags that break down in 4 months. 4 FUCKING MONTHS! how about the mayor make businesses buy them?

no....let's let the man stick it to us....

God is my grocery bag.

Posted by fuck the man | April 7, 2008 8:12 PM


This proposal doesn't exist in isolation - it's part of a larger pattern of punitive, picayune legislation coming out of City Hall, and the larger picture there is one that is increasingly classist, obnoxious and callously indifferent to the day-to-day lives of a lot of people.

So excuse me if I find this penny-ante nanny state B.S annoying - because it is.

Posted by Mr. X | April 7, 2008 8:19 PM

You don't need to carry 6 or 12 bags on a daily basis, just 1 or 2, get a net bag like in europe and go to the grocery / market every 1-2 days and don't buy all that overly packaged and overly processed crap food buy fresh food. Substitute corn meal for doritos, get peanut butted and two apples instead of 10 individual microwavable "healty diet" 200=calorie boxes of pasta or chicken for lunch, then you don't need so many bags.

If people did this we'd have stores that are smaller, and closer, with fresher things like in Europe, making it easier to go more often. Our obsession with being able to have disposable bags and carrying home 12 bags at a time is just part of our industrialized food distribution system which makes us all teamsters, hauling around huge amounts of products and packaging then devoting huge amounts of home space (tres cher in la cite) for storage, and making us drive to large asphalt seas at huge big box stores that sell large packages of nonfresh food.
IT's all a vicious cycle. And yes we the majority have every right to make you change without an individual choice because this current ssystem sucks, is ugly unhealthy and irresponsible, and the


will do you good.

So buck up and stop whining and eat your vegetables which you should buy every day.

Posted by Nanny State | April 7, 2008 8:33 PM

Like in "Europe"? You mean like France, where most people shop in Hypermarches that make Walmart look like a corner store? Carrefour, Auchan, Asda, Aldi, Hipercor, etc.

Posted by Fnarf | April 7, 2008 9:42 PM

While you guys argued over plastic bags, a chief NASA scientist gave a presentation to the EU to the effect that even their most stringent carbon reduction plans won't be anywhere near enough -- As reported in the Guardian, Dr. Hansen's team used prehistoric climatic data to model a runaway greenhouse effect that could very well leave us with *all the ice* on Earth melting and a 246 high rise in sea level unless carbon emissions are cut drastically, and soon...

FYI, carbon emissions over the last decade are up three times over the previous one:

Maybe we can live on that floating plastic bag continent...?

Posted by Peter F | April 7, 2008 10:29 PM

Sorry -- should read "a 246 FOOT high rise in sea level"

Posted by Peter F | April 7, 2008 10:30 PM

Oh Mr. X, don't be such a bore. The "nanny state" is Limbaugh-esque bullshit.

Face the facts, dearest: We live in an increasingly overpopulated society - at least in the areas that are worth living in - thus the regulations on the stuff we throw away.

If you feel stifled by all this political correctness, I would be happy to buy you a one-way Greyhound ticket to Omaha, where you can find an ever-shrinking, but increasingly shrill, group of people that would agree with you. You'd be the hit of the after-work crowd at any of the Applebees. They'd probably even buy you an order of buffalo wings as a welcome wagon gift - especially if you throw around words like "punitive" and "picayune". Hell, they might even appoint you District Attorney! Them's big words.

Posted by catalina vel-duray | April 7, 2008 10:37 PM


I think you're normally way on the ball, but it isn't just right-wingers who have issues with the burgeoning (oops, another .50 cent word) nanny state. I was just as annoyed when the City banned swimming across the Fremont Cut (which I would never do) or when the State banned smoking in bars (which I didn't do either).

And I think picayune has a certain ring to it that hits the nail right on the head with regard to this stuff. I may have even used it way back when the Poster Ban was first passed...

Posted by Mr. X | April 7, 2008 10:47 PM
54's the a smaller symptom of the same mentality that brings you this...

Posted by Mr. X | April 7, 2008 11:03 PM

That bag fee includes paper bags too, doesn't it? If the Mayor is so worried about the environmental impact of nominally recyclable paper, maybe there should be a 20¢ tax on the Stranger for people who don't want to read it on line? How about a tax on junk mail (paid by the sender of course), say $10 per piece.

Posted by Epimetheus | April 8, 2008 12:51 AM

@52: What's wrong with Omaha? It has a great indie rock scene, a lot of progressives and a large number of colleges.

Don't stop on my account: The Midwest always makes such a convenient straw man and whipping boy that I'd hate to take that away from you with something petty like facts.

Posted by Dawgson | April 8, 2008 7:48 AM


The fact that you claim "supermarket bags" or "plastic bags in general" contribute "hardly nothing" to global pollution is one the the most ignorant and uneducated things I've seen on this forum yet.

There is an entire ISLAND somewhere floating in the ocean that is entirely composed of plastic bags- look it up. It's true. And it is only growing. HUGE percentages of landfills are composed of nothing but plastic bags.

Outside of the physical waste of plastic bags- do you even realize the air pollution production of these bags causes? It is practically immeasurable. And with such irresponsible and reckless use of them ,the production is high. THEN there is the pollution caused by recycling the bags- no one ever seems to understand just how toxic it is to melt them down and turn them into something else. The amount of energy it requires . . .

Do your research before posting something so insanely stupid.

The reasons are numerous and irrefutable why a ban or tax to force society to stop using these things is only going to benefit that society and the environment. IT IS NECESSARY.

Posted by Johnny Liverwerst | April 8, 2008 9:02 AM

A reusable canvas or plastic bag like they sell at Trader Joes for $.99 each folds up and easily fits in a backpack. I have two in the trunk of the car. Suddenly we find that we have almost NO plastic grocery bags in the house. We occasionally get a paper bag for trash, and they sell biodegradeable bags for picking up after the dog. Net effect? Our life is actually MORE convenient, because we don't have this mass of plastic grocery bags to deal with at home overflowing out from behind the fridge, We have less trash in general, and we're not adding as much to the number of plastic film bags that will never go away.
This is not an imposition on the poor, since 1 reusable bag would pay for itself in 3.5 trips.

Posted by NaFun | April 8, 2008 10:29 AM

@54: Adverse possession. Precedent. Tent City. Look up these and many other wonderfully useful terms at

Posted by Greg | April 8, 2008 10:31 AM

mr x, perhaps our disconnect, then, is that you see this as a part of a whole, whereas i am evaluating it as its part: a single law. if i haven't been clear yet, i love how catalina vel-duray put it @52. this particular law is not nanny state, even if a law against swimming across the fremont cut is. and it's not economically regressive either.

Posted by infrequent | April 8, 2008 10:38 AM

Why can't people re-use the .20 plastic bags? Pay $1 in tax, skip the cost of "reusable" canvas/nylon bags and just hold on to your plastic ones...

It's not that hard. We use some nylon bags for most things, but we keep the bags you stick fruit/veggies in and reuse them over and over. I mean, you're going to wash the produce before you eat it anyway, so what's the difference?

Posted by Chris Evans | April 8, 2008 11:29 AM

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