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Thursday, April 3, 2008


posted by on April 3 at 12:14 PM

Did you hear? Mayor Greg Nickels and City Council member Richard Conlin are proposing to DESTROY YOUR FAMILY by charging an MONSTROUS, BUDGET-BREAKING FEE on every disposable bag you HAVE to use at the grocery store.

From the Times’ story, “Paper or Plastic? Either Way, You May Have to Pay”:

Next time the cashier says “paper or plastic,” think outside the bags. Think about ocean pollution, giant landfills and global warming, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels says.

Mayor Greg Nickels: INSIDE YOUR MIND, telling you WHAT TO THINK.

Then think to next year, when you might have to either pull out a reusable tote or pay 20 cents a bag.

Nickels and City Council President Richard Conlin proposed a 20-cent “green fee” Wednesday on all disposable bags to encourage customers to carry their milk and eggs home in their own bags.

Forget the canvas sacks at home? Shoppers at grocery, convenience and drug stores will pay the price starting Jan. 1, if the City Council approves. A family buying six bags of groceries a week would spend $62.40 a year in bag fees.

Actually, a family buying six bags of groceries a week and bringing their own canvas bags would spend exactly $0.00 a year in “bag fees.” But that’s obviously just crazy talk. People can’t CHANGE THEIR BEHAVIOR—it’s against human nature!

In the Uwajimaya Village checkout line, reaction ranged from sticker shock to approval.

Germaine Szewczyk, who makes regular trips from Bremerton to pick up Hawaiian food, called a fee “ludicrous.”

“We don’t come to shop to spend more money on reusable bags,” she said as she carted out nine plastic bags.

She tried using a reusable bag but didn’t like it. If the council approves the fee, she would pay the 20 cents.

Because, again, people NEVER respond to changes in the market. It’s, like, against the law of economics!

The mayor also hates the homeless:

The fee could prove a struggle for low-income consumers, advocates say.

“It is an undue burden,” said Mike Buchman, a spokesman for Solid Ground, a nonprofit that serves families dealing with hunger and homelessness. While he applauds the mayor’s environmental policy, “there are a lot of hungry people in our community, and every dime that can go to nutritional food is important,” he said.

And cats:

Though [council member Sally Clark] loves the mayor’s proposal, she is now wondering how she would clean up after her cat.

“When I clean out the cat box, I use grocery bags,” she said. “I have to figure out something else.”

Have mercy, Mayor Nickels! WILL NO ONE THINK OF THE KITTENS?!?!

(Some context.)

RSS icon Comments


Sally Clark should look into BioBags.

Posted by giantladysquirrels | April 3, 2008 12:14 PM

I'm glad you posted this ECB. I thought that they were just trolling for "opposing" opinions that had no relevance simply for sensationalism.

Posted by Citizen Gregg | April 3, 2008 12:19 PM

So low income people have absolutely no bags that they can bring to the grocery store? No extra plastic bags sitting in a drawer? No backpacks?

They pricey canvas tote bags are not the only option. Christ!

Posted by Robin Sparkles | April 3, 2008 12:19 PM

My original thought was oh great now what will I clean the litter with. I'm glad they covered that angle!

Posted by CodyBolt | April 3, 2008 12:23 PM

"Actually, a family buying six bags of groceries a week and bringing their own canvas bags would spend exactly $0.00 a year in “bag fees.” "

- That isn't exactly true since that family would have the initial investment of the canvas bags, but I still think this is a good idea. My wife has been forcing me to bring those bags to the grocery store for some time now and it isn't such a big deal after the initial ramp up, and it makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside.

I do think the big winners here are the grocery stores though. Plastic bags generally get recycled and canvas bags still eventually wear out and end up going somehwere, so the jury is out on how much trash is really being saved from the giant garbage mass in the ocean. But in this scenario the grocery stores are being saved the overhead of the plastic bags and now have an additional product that they can sell (canvas bags) for a substantial profit. I'm sure we'll all see a reduction of prices at the grocery store now :)

Posted by Clint | April 3, 2008 12:23 PM


Can Josh take you with him? PLEASE!!! Why am I not surprised that uppity and so- called "liberal" white folks can't understand how this might have an impact on low-income folks. Your stupidity to anything outside of Capital Hill is amazing.

Posted by midnight rider | April 3, 2008 12:23 PM

The low-income/homeless thing I can partially understand, but not for the reason mentioned. A lot of poorer folks re-use plastic grocery bags for a variety of other uses, i.e. garbage bags.

But as far as creating an undue financial burden? That's a stretch. One reusable canvas bag at $0.99 a pop would pay for itself after only 5 trips to the store under this proposal.

Posted by Hernandez | April 3, 2008 12:25 PM

Who knows, maybe a gray market will develop for the plastic bags. If that happens, the homeless and low income can scrounge through dumpsters and garbage cans like they do for cans today. Buchman fails to recognize that the Mayor and Council have created a potential new revenue source for the down and out.

Posted by Realer Change | April 3, 2008 12:27 PM

Of course, traveling from Bremerton to Seattle to buy groceries isn't unreasonable at all.


I've been using the same canvas bags for almost ten years. They look like shit, but they're still sturdy.

Posted by keshmeshi | April 3, 2008 12:29 PM

But "free" plastic bags aren't really free anyway. The cost of them to QFC or Safeway or whomever will be reflected in grocery prices. In that sense, perhaps low-income folk are every-so-slightly helped by free bags, in that we're subsidizing their plastic bag use. But, really ... come on. Use a fucking cloth bag.

Posted by tsm | April 3, 2008 12:29 PM

@5: I doubt that most people recycle plastic bags.

Posted by Jerod | April 3, 2008 12:30 PM

this will not affect low-income people unless you believe they are somehow different in that they cannot remember to bring a bag with them, or that they cannot get the free bags available to everyone else.

this isn't making people change behavior to create some happy sunshine feel good state. this is about people paying for the actual cost of an item. up until now, everyone's received what is basically a free pass. the free pass is over.

Posted by infrequent | April 3, 2008 12:31 PM

The low income argument is a red herring. What people are afraid of is even the slightest notion of inconvenience.

Posted by Dougsf | April 3, 2008 12:32 PM


Posted by some dude | April 3, 2008 12:32 PM


I sure as hell do, and resent that I will have to starting buying non-biodegradable garbage bags when this feel-good BS passes.

Posted by Mr. X | April 3, 2008 12:32 PM

Pathetic nanny statism continues. If you don't want to use plastic or paper bags, fine. Don't. But charging the rest of us for their use - especially when many folks have alternative recycling methods that put these bags to work long after they're packed full of groceries at QFC - is absurd. Look behind your hippie sunglasses, SLOG readers: the "going green" fad is getting ridiculous.

Posted by Seattle Crime Blogger | April 3, 2008 12:33 PM

Goddammit ECB,

I'm a Hillary delegate, which means you have my undying admiration, but I have a FAMILIEEEEEEEEEE myself. We recycle our asses off, and do all we can every day to reduce waste and pollution. We even stopped at one child to keep from hogging the earth's resources. But between my garbage rates going up another 10% and this asinine bag fee, I feel like the city is nickel-and-diming me while smugly hiding behind a green compostable fig leaf.

Maybe Conlin should show his ass up to the Fred Meyer and carry my groceries home for me.

Posted by Joe M | April 3, 2008 12:33 PM

@5 according to the article, each household will get a free reusable bag. Also, you certainly do not have to spend a ton of money on canvas bags. You can either: reuse the plastic bags you already have (most people have a stash.) Or next time you buy clothes or go to the mall and get one of those big paper bags from Banana Republic or such, save it and use it as a grocery bag. Those bags will probably last a couple months, maybe even longer. I have one that has lasted me over a year that I love.

And @6, the impact on low-income people seems pretty negligible to me. The city of Seattle is already providing everyone one reusable bag, and if you want to buy a couple more, they are only about a dollar each. Otherwise, like I said, reuse the stash of plastic bags you currently have. If you don't have a stash, ask for some on Freecycle. But really, this proposal only stands to cost low-income people about $3 if they want to buy three more reusable bags. That's really really negligible.

Posted by arduous | April 3, 2008 12:34 PM

Am I the only one left asking "Which is has the bigger impact of the environment: plastic bags or the emissions from your car?"

Something tells me as much as plastic bags are not great for the environment we are ignoring (still ignoring) the larger problem that the Mayor has not wanted to address. But I suppose the tumor we have this band aid will do something for...I guess.

Posted by Andrew | April 3, 2008 12:34 PM

I really fail to see how something this basic could be controversial. Good job manufacturing convroversy, Seattle Times.

Posted by Greg | April 3, 2008 12:34 PM

@15, so do I, but our reuse represents a tiny fraction of actual grocery bag consumption. It's time the price reflected the bag's actual cost to society.

Posted by tsm | April 3, 2008 12:35 PM

The same plastic bags for ten years?! My granola isn't anywhere near that crunchy, so it won't happen in my house. Hats off to you, Keshmeshi.

I disagree Jerod, but I don't have any real data to back up my opinion. In either case, It's tough to be against this idea, but I still think it amounts to pissing on a forest fire.

Posted by Clint | April 3, 2008 12:35 PM

I started using resuable bags (small enough to into the size of my fist) about four months ago and I'm here to say it's very easy.

I don't miss those annoying plastic bags floating around my house. The bags I re-use are larger than the "paper or plastic" variety and fit over my shoulder. I have six of them that I have in all my handbags, backpacks, etc so I don't forget to bring them. Most of my shopping trips are impromptu.

I don't use those large,canvas bags because they don't fit in my purse. I don't generally take my car to the market so handbag-sized bags are essentially for me to make it work.

Posted by me | April 3, 2008 12:35 PM

Pathetic nanny statism continues. If you don't want to use aluminum cans of Pepsi, fine. Don't. But charging the rest of us for its use - especially when many folks have alternative recycling methods that put these cans to work as pipes long after they're packed full of groceries at QFC - is absurd. Look behind your hippie sunglasses, SLOG readers: the "going green" fad is getting ridiculous.

Posted by Citizen Gregg | April 3, 2008 12:37 PM

I don't get the uproar over bagging garbage or kitty litter. Really. If you think a plastic garbage sack is keeping smells at bay and/or critters digging in your trash, you're wrong.

I think using garbage bags is retarded.

And reusable bags are CHEAP. I have $.99 bags from Trader Joe's, FREE bags from Metropolitan Market, and all the plastic bags I can handle from other retailers.

Posted by Soupytwist | April 3, 2008 12:37 PM

I have a question. I'm all for switching to reusable bags, but I've always used the grocery bags from the store as trash bags. How should we go about collecting and disposing our trash without plastic bags?

Posted by Sage | April 3, 2008 12:39 PM

@22: Nor do I. I'm basing my assumption on the fact that LeMay(or whatever) doesn't collect grocery bags for recycling and most people are really lazy.

Posted by Jerod | April 3, 2008 12:40 PM

Solid Ground should be ashamed of themselves for allowing themselves to be set up as the 'human services vs. environment' stereotype the reporter was looking for. Way to fall into that tired, sorry trap!

This new rule has zero effect on the homeless population and is completely unrelated to SolidGround's work and mission. I give money to them, but if they feel like the homeless and the environment is as zero sum game, then forget it.

Posted by me | April 3, 2008 12:41 PM

Homeless and low income people are already the most effective recyclers because they have no other choice. They make do with whatever we throw away to live (cardboard/tarp shelters), to transport (shopping carts) and to survive (dumpsters behind pizza joints). I think we could learn a few things about little this paper/plastic debate is going to affect them just by using common sense.

And those bags they sell at the store are so awkward. I prefer a backpack any day, 99cents at Value Village.

I love it the most nasty comments come from the geniuses who can't even spell Capitol Hill.

Posted by Diana | April 3, 2008 12:43 PM

Yeah, because Solid Ground has NO idea what the issues facing the poor are - they've only been doing that kind of work for 20+ years.

The callowness of our local urban environmentalists when it comes to social justice issues is really depressing.

Posted by Mr. X | April 3, 2008 12:44 PM

@17 - So why not buy some reusable bags? Then no being nickel and dimed for using plastic bags you don't need. What's the problem?

Posted by Levislade | April 3, 2008 12:46 PM

Oh, @30, if only unlimited access to free plastic bags, most of which will go straight to landfills immediately after use, really were among the most important "social justice issues".

Posted by tsm | April 3, 2008 12:47 PM

Wordy McWord to 13. All the time I see people ask for a plastic bag for one item, where carrying the bag takes the same amount of energy as carrying the item would. I don't think it will eliminate plastic bag use - I'm guessing there will be times when I need to purchase one as well - but it will make people make a conscious decision about using something that is bad for the environment instead of making that the norm.

BTW, I have both a dog and a cat, and I take plastic bags from my work and from my neighbors to deal with litter box/poop scooping. If those sources truly dry up, I'll adjust. Using that as a reason to cry about a plastic bag fee is lame.

Posted by genevieve | April 3, 2008 12:49 PM
She tried using a reusable bag but didn’t like it.

WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH! I like consuming and being able to pretend my actions have no consequences for everyone else!

Posted by morons. | April 3, 2008 12:53 PM

Another regressive idea from ECB, big surprise. Nothing like forcing people to think and act the way you do by penalizing them financially for doing the "wrong" thing. I'm sure that unlike paper grocery bags, the free Stranger newspapers piled up in free boxes around the city don't end up blowing around the Sound or anything. Not like free newsweeklies should get a twenty cent an issue tax applied to them, to pay for cleaning the fucking things up from all over the place...

Posted by Um | April 3, 2008 12:54 PM

I'm low income. I've been using canvas bags I bought 18 years ago from 'Garbage' magazine. More than paid for themselves from 18 years of getting 2 or 3 cents back each trip to the store. Before that I used my old boy scout backpack. It's just not all that fuggin difficult.

Posted by Yutang | April 3, 2008 12:54 PM

@26 - Really? I use a trash bin with a removable hard plastic liner - I can upgrade to aluminum or steel if I choose. I have them in three different sizes for different rooms.

I don't think I've used garbage bags for almost three years.

Posted by Soupytwist | April 3, 2008 12:54 PM

And people wonder why people will vote Republican....

Posted by Just Saying | April 3, 2008 12:54 PM

@35 - paper biodegrades. Plastic doesn't.


Posted by tsm | April 3, 2008 12:55 PM

Nanny state-ism? Well, plastic bags cost municipalities a ton of money in clean-up since only a tiny fraction of plastic shopping bags are recycled. So if you think you should be able to use plastic bags and not pay the *actual* price of those bags, then you are the one relying on the nanny state.

Posted by twee | April 3, 2008 12:56 PM

@30: I trust Solid Ground's work with the homeless. That's why I've been giving them money for 10 years. They are especially effective at it. However, for them to wag their finger at people who want to curb plastic bags as some sort of crazy eco-yuppies is just stupid. There is a real cost to all those bags floating around that could be used for other community priorities, like helping the homeless!

Posted by me | April 3, 2008 12:57 PM

I must have a dozen reusable bags I've bought sitting at home somewhere. I always forget them or buy my groceries when I get off work. This law may make me think before I leave the house.

One downside. I use recycled paper bags to carry my recycle paper to the recycle bin. Maybe they should pay ME 20 cents a bag. :)

Posted by elswinger | April 3, 2008 1:00 PM

I use a certain decade-old canvas bag for certain larger items or for overflow.
I use my backpack for most items.
I live within walking distance of 4 or so grocery stores so I rarely get a ton of food at once. Maybe once every 3 or 4 months though I ask the store for a bag to carry the extra stuff.

Posted by stinkbug | April 3, 2008 1:01 PM

Man so Nickels finally did something for the environment! Maybe I can actually sort of support him now.

Posted by John | April 3, 2008 1:01 PM

Paper DOESN'T biodegrade, not in landfills. NOTHING biodegrades in landfills, not before thousands of years pass at least. Paper in particular is preserved in landfills much more effectively than it is stacked up in your house (where light and air can get to it).

But this plastic-bag controversy is a joke. Plastic grocery bags are TRIVIA. I'd like to see the city do something that ACTUALLY HAS AN EFFECT, like maybe ban two-stroke leafblowers, mowers and hedge-trimmers.

Posted by Fnarf | April 3, 2008 1:02 PM

Nothing is free.

The bags they hand out for "free" cost about 13 cents and this is paid by all of us thru higher food prices.

Including those who don't use the "Free" bags and bring cancvas bags from home.

So right now the less-environmental folks are getting subsidized by the more-environmental folks.

And this doesn't even count all the costs of those plastic and paper bags such as are paying for the other ones to be unpriced secondary external costs oil to ship them to the store, to the landfill, landfill costs, etc.

The argument against the fee seems to be "I want to continue to be subsidized to do the wrong thing."

That's backwards. We shouldn't pay people to do the wrong thing.

Posted by Cleve | April 3, 2008 1:02 PM


Canvas bags. The amount of plastic I've avoided using vastly outweighs the amount of material used in my four, 10-year-old canvas bags.

One possible benefit to this is that baggers will have to ask whether you want a bag at all. I practically have to throw a body block to keep Safeway baggers from giving me a plastic bag for my one item. I guess it makes them feel useful?

Posted by keshmeshi | April 3, 2008 1:09 PM

@41, with all of the City contracts Solid Ground has, do you think they would pick this fight lightly? (BTW - I think SG actually does a lot more work w/low-income people than homeless ones.)

Posted by Mr. X | April 3, 2008 1:11 PM

For once, I agree with ECB and Mayor McCheese, and yet again, I loathe the tone of the dumbass Times, (which isn't that surprising due to the fact that like plastic grocery store bags, hardcopy newspapers are also doomed to extinction.)

As for the issue at hand: BIG FUCKING DEAL! Canvas bags are cheap, and last a very long time and the city is giving everyone a free one....Trader Joe's sells them for .99 and they last a very long time. And if you ocassionally forget your canvas bag or need some plastic ones for use around the house, then pay the lousy .20. This isn't going to bankrupt the poor; we'll adjust, thank you very much. And 'taking away your right to use plastic bags' isn't violating your constitutional rights; it's about trying to save the fucking planet and stop being lazyass, greedy consumers.

Posted by michael strangeways | April 3, 2008 1:13 PM

@31 - actually I have no problem with the reusable bags. I just feel like this is another case of micro-managing politicians telling us what to do and how to do it.

There are a number of good approaches to consider besides hitting up the shopper. Maybe requiring stores that only offer plastic bags to provide alternatives. Some stores offer a few cents rebate when you bring your own bags-- can more be encouraged to do that? It's a complex problem that requires the private and public sectors to do their jobs better.

Posted by Joe M | April 3, 2008 1:14 PM

Way to get all up in arms about a non-issue.

Posted by ecce homo | April 3, 2008 1:15 PM

So will the grocery stores pass these savings along to us via reduced prices? Not fucking likely.

Posted by Aisle 6 | April 3, 2008 1:16 PM

I don't really see what the big deal is about the .20 cent fee for bags. Other places, notbably in European countries have been doing this for years, although when i was there I think the fee was .10 cents.
That being said, I use the Trader Joe's paper bags for recycling all of my junk mail, envelopes, newspapers, strangers, whatever and than throw the whole bag in the recycling bin. Its convienient to reuse grocery bags for this.
Just flat out banning plastic bags would have probably been more effective but I guess this is what happens when a city is faced with revenue problems in the near future. They start nickel and diming here and there, soon you're talking about real money.

Hey, here's an idea, maybe the city actually could live within their means and start by cutting back the $125,000 a year salary of city council members, so they can start relating more to the average person in the street.

Posted by Brian in Seattle | April 3, 2008 1:21 PM

@50 - How would "requiring stores to provide alternatives" be any less of an intrusion than just taxing the damn bags? If it helps to think of this as getting a $.20 refund for bringing your own bag, then by all means do.

The private sector hasn't done anything on this to date; it's time for the law to step in. No one's outlawing disposable bags here (as has been done elsewhere), they're just saying that the costs of these bags can't be hidden any longer. I really don't see why this is controversial at all.

Posted by Levislade | April 3, 2008 1:21 PM

#46, Exactly!

Posted by poster Girl | April 3, 2008 1:21 PM

I'm just pleased to see that ECB can work herself up into an arm-waving lather over something other than Hillary/Obama. Because at some point the election will be old news, and I for one enjoy seeing issues presented in hyperbolic, end-of-the-world terms. Thanks, ECB!

Posted by also | April 3, 2008 1:23 PM

My husband is being stubborn about using the bags and still brings those annoying plastic bags home. I ask him to please at least get paper bags but he doesn' hink about things like that and forgets.
I'll be glad for the charge to start so he'll finally give in. 20 cents will blow his ever lovin head off he's so cheap! Once I listen to him rant about the charge a few hundred dozen times he'll use the canvas bags.
I've bought 2 of the re-usable bags at all the stores I usually go to and Fred Meyer's are the worst. I used the bag two times and the seam split. Now that irritates the crap outta me. Hope they will exchange it with no problems.
I noticed that Safeway gives me 3 cents off per bag but didn't notice if any other stores were.

Posted by irl500girl | April 3, 2008 1:25 PM

Acutally Fnarf, paper DOES BIODEGRADE and DOES GET REUSED when disposed of properly which apparently you haven't figure out how to do. And using reusable bags saves tons of energy in the fuels needed for the production and disposal of plastic and paper bags, not to mention the resources that go into their makeup. But, it requires positive action and a step away from selfish indulgence which, again, are things you apparently can't do. I would call that having "an effect". At least the mayor is out doing something and making difficult choices and suggestions instead of simply kvetching on SLOG, which is apparently the ONE SOLITARY THING you've mastered.

Posted by El Seven | April 3, 2008 1:25 PM

tsm @ 39, if paper biodegrades and is a nonissue, why is the city proposing to tax people for using paper grocery bags? DUH

Posted by Um | April 3, 2008 1:36 PM

Heads up to all you "this is typical PC librul nanny-state bullshit" whiners -

- nobody's FORCING you to use paper or plastic bags in the first place. You've just gotten lazy, because grocery stores have traditionally offered them to you for "free" (although not really, as other commenters have noted), and you've now gotten it into your tiny little pea-brains that this "courtesy" has now become an entitlement.


Well, tough shit. If spending two or three dollars on reuseable canvas grocery bags is now going to take on the moral equivalency of, say, forcing you to relinquish your Constitutionally-protected personal firearms, then you're an even more pathetic lot of cry-babies than you sound. In which case my only advice to you is to suck it up and do the right thing - for once in your sad little self-absorbed lives, or, if that small sacrifice proves too daunting for your "ME!ME!ME!" mentalities, then may I suggest you instead pour yourselves a big, tall, steaming cup of shut-the-fuck-up.

And @1, where locally can one purchase these BioBags?

Posted by COMTE | April 3, 2008 1:39 PM

Go to QFC on Broadway and Pike, a Paper-bag sized canvas tote costs: 1.99$

Two Dollars.

Wow. Pays for itself in less then two trips to the grocery store. Stop bitching and contributing to the Texas sized mound of plastic floating in the Pacific ocean.

Posted by Colton | April 3, 2008 1:40 PM

Meanwhile, the PI's balanced story is a breath of fresh air:

Posted by Levislade | April 3, 2008 1:47 PM

So, will all the vendors at Pike Place be charging extra for the scads of paper bags they give you when you buy various types of fruit and produce?

I love the crazy assumptions that smug asshole comment posters make here about their fellow residents and each other. If only you obvious geniuses were in charge of everything, we'd all be living in some sort of Utopia.

Posted by Um | April 3, 2008 1:52 PM

@52 Good point. It's not like the Mayor and the Council can force QFC/Fred Meyer/Safeway/Trader Joe's/etc. to pass the savings on to us. Unless this was done on the national level, there'd be no point in doing so.

Posted by Hernandez | April 3, 2008 1:53 PM

We switched over to fabric bags. We don't have a car, so we've been riding the bus with our groceries for a pretty long time. And I gotta say, the fabric bags are much more comfy to carry, and can hold A LOT more in them. And they cost, what? Like a dollar a peice?

If we can do it, anyone can.

Posted by tabletop_joe | April 3, 2008 1:53 PM

Get a life, complainers! It's not a regressive tax if the burden it places is commensurate with the activity. Plastic bags have refining, manufacturing, disposal and environmental costs that the public bears no matter who -- rich or poor -- uses them.

Also, this will have meaningless overall economic impact. Many US cities and most European nations ban or charge for disposable bags, and their economies are doing just fine.

Posted by Evilfascistecogreen | April 3, 2008 1:54 PM

Fuckin' right, um.

And you'd probably have moved to Houston or Birmingham a long time ago.

Posted by COMTE | April 3, 2008 1:55 PM

@61, actually, it will pay in 10 trips but it's still a good thing. :)

Funny thing is, I actually bought 3 organic hemp bags from Wild Oats (now Whole Foods) where they give a discount of a nickel for every reusable bag presented each trip. I kept track and it took me just under three years to pay for them. Hemp is expensive. But I did carry a car battery in one of them !

@60, I got my BioBags at Wild Oats so I'm assuming that Whole Foods probably has them too now that they've merged, err, been bought.

Cat shit should go down the toilet. It's the only system that will deal with it properly.

Posted by El Seven | April 3, 2008 1:56 PM

I actually use some of the bags instead of garbage bags, and the paper ones are great for making papier mache puppets.

It is a regressive tax - a multi-millionaire who has their personal shopper use boxes instead won't be paying it. People at Fred Meyer get every item bagged even though we don't need 20 bags for a four bag load ...

Posted by Will in Seattle | April 3, 2008 1:56 PM

I'm not flinging myself into this discussion one way or another other, I just want to remind you to please wash your canvas bags sometimes, I have been told it is possible to get food borne illnesses because of bacteria from the unwashed produce or the meat drippings. I'm not a scientist so I can't prove this definitively, I'm just pointing out that it seems like a good idea.

OK, I'll throw myself into the debate briefly--I do re-use my plastic bags as garbage can liners 'cause I'm a girl and once a month I throw away some messy stuff that I'd prefer be contained in a bag. And don't go telling me to flush it because I've had to pay the plumber's bill after a roommate did that and it wasn't pretty (the bill or the mess...)

Posted by PopTart | April 3, 2008 2:00 PM

God, this is a stupid post. Think of the kittens!! Obviously Erica finds no alternative use for the bags, but plenty of us do. What would you have the kitty litter picker-uppers and the dog poop picker-uppers use? I don't have pets, but I have a small kitchen garbage can that I use the shopping bags in. I should buy other plastic bags for my garbage? The dog walkers should use, I don't know, newspaper? Yuck.

It's always the same with your posts -- you've got your certainties, and don't have a clue that other people might live in different ways, and those ways might have their own justifications. The shopping bag thing is a stupid attention-suck away from things we could be doing that would really have an impact.

Posted by Terry | April 3, 2008 2:02 PM

#47, "One possible benefit to this is that baggers will have to ask whether you want a bag at all."

I was at the Broadway QFC the other night getting things for dinner. I didn't bring a bag, or a backpack, in fact I just brought myself since it's a 6 block walk.

The lady in front of me was getting her things bagged in plastic and I hear the checker make a comment about how "most people here don't need bags." Ok. I get my stuff checked, its about one paper bag worth of stuff, and the checker has it all sprawled out. So there I am standing there, paid up, with nothing except my clothes on, and he finally asks me "Do you need a bag?" I stared blankly at him for a few seconds, wondering why the fuck he would think I was about to carry 15 items out the door in my hands, then meekly said "I guess I'll just take one paper bag." At that point he looked pretty annoyed that he had to bag the stuff. He fucking double-bagged it, too.

Apparently, I am not green enough to shop at the Broadway QFC. Fuck them anyway, I hate QFC. It's consistently overpriced compared to Safeway. Anyone know why?

(Not to diminish the value of reusable bags, but Fnarf is right: there are things you can do for the environment that are probably much more valuable than offsetting the production/recycling costs of a paper bag, like shaving one minute off of your shower every day, and not driving to the grocery store in the first place)

Posted by w7ngman | April 3, 2008 2:04 PM

@67, I'd rather be burnt alive than have to live or even visit anyplace south of the Mason/Dixon line.

I gather from your comment that you are assuming that I am some kind of ignorant redneck conservative that would only be happy living in such a place? Or was that a racist slur of some kind?

Posted by Um | April 3, 2008 2:04 PM

Actually, @68, according to most sources cat litter should NEVER be flushed down the toilet.

Cat feces contains high concentrations of bacteria, as well as the T.Gondii parasite, and can be toxic to water-born mammals, such as sea otters and the like, and which frequently is unaffected by waste-water treatment processes.

Posted by COMTE | April 3, 2008 2:06 PM

this is not a nanny state action. this is paying for the true cost of the good. which is actually capitalism without subsidies.

a nanny law is like the seatbelt law: it affects the person only. this prevents an action that negatively affects other people.

furthermore, the poor excuse is just an excuse. but even if it somehow is not, since when do the poor get a pass on causing environmental harm? if anything the poor should recycle bags. but making people recycle them in a certain way would be a nanny state action. this just puts the cost out front, and let's you -- rich or poor -- choose how to respond.

Posted by infrequent | April 3, 2008 2:09 PM

In point of fact, um, those just happen to be two of the nations most polluted cities - I figured you'd just feel more at home there than you would in some sort of hippy-dippy, environmentally clean "utopia".

Posted by COMTE | April 3, 2008 2:10 PM

Can somebody please direct me to a picture of this floating garbage island? You'd think that being "two times the size of Texas" it would be easy to get a picture of, but my searches always turn up nothing.

Posted by Clint | April 3, 2008 2:13 PM

@76, got it. I couldn't tell where you were going with the snark, there.

@75, ironically (?) I've had to pay three tickets since the seatbelt law was enacted, for not wearing a seatbelt.

Posted by Um | April 3, 2008 2:23 PM

COMTE, thanks. I do realize that but that particular parasite typically only affects outdoor cats as they get it from live prey. And I would think that most cats that go outdoors, crap outdoors. The best option probably depends on where you live and if your sanitation system is actively filtering for that. But I've never seen most sources recommend not flushing yet. Perhaps because they don't want to piss off pet owners.

Posted by El Seven | April 3, 2008 2:25 PM

First, to all the posters who think all this bag business is a drop in the bucket, or that it won't change anything in the end; this is not just about the damn bag. This is about bringing that far-away idea of the environment home to where it really counts: the consumer.

The real way to drive home an abstract concept like the global environment crisis is to make it real to people monetarily. As long as fuel prices remain low, people are going to drive out of town to the big mega-stores to buy their toilet paper in the super 124-roll package, necessitating a big fuel-eating truck-car to carry it all home in. Yes, the climate may suffer, but they've just saved a few bucks.

Let me float my experiences out there. I live in the extreme low-income bracket of one of the richest countries of the world, Switzerland. And here, our bags cost a whopping 30 cents (Gasp!). Let me tell you, 30 cents is not going to break anyone's bank. I hardly ever pay for a bag, as I use my backpack or some extra plastic bags (yeah, those ones that you buy are also reusable) that I've stuffed under my bike seat for those impromptu shopping trips.

While Seattle gets a big gold star in my book for this proposal, what really needs to change is the attitude towards what goes into the landfills in general. What we have here is a radically different view of a garbage tax. There is no global fee for garbage service, but we must buy state-sanctioned garbage bags to dispose of anything. Those who dispose of less, pay less. Recycling is thus encouraged by a very effective carrot and stick mechanism. Works for me!

Posted by SwissMiss | April 3, 2008 2:32 PM

This is exactly in line with what taxes should be used for; create incentives to change behavior that ultimately benefits everyone.

See, Im not a heartless libertarian who gets up in arms about everything. I will lament hte loss of using paper bags to hold my weekly 36-48 beer cans though.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | April 3, 2008 2:42 PM


In a show of how cheap Americans really can be when something shows up as a line item on their receipts, IKEA reports that, since it started charging customers 5 cents per bag, disposable plastic bag use has gone down more than 92 percent in U.S. stores.


(Ikea) set a goal last year of slashing plastic bag use by 50 percent from 70 million bags to 35 million in 12 months. To do this, the company sold the plastic bags for a nickel, as well as reusable bags for 59 cents.

Ninety-two percent of customers eschewed the plastic bags, the retailer said. Now the company will pull plastic bags completely from its U.S. stores in October, just as it did in the United Kingdom in June, and in Australia in December. The company donated the proceeds -- more than $300,000 -- from the sale of the plastic bags to America Forests to plant trees.

Posted by alger | April 3, 2008 2:46 PM

Fnarf, Andrew etc, this is why reducing consumption of plast bags DOES matter.

And Clint, here's what you were asking for:

Posted by arduous | April 3, 2008 2:58 PM

The whole "Nanny State" thing is bullshit. The same people whined about the smoking ban but is everyone better off for it? Absolutely.

Posted by poster Girl | April 3, 2008 2:58 PM

Thanks arduous, but all I see are a couple pics of small floating garbage piles and some pics of animals caught in garbage. The LA Times has a big story about it with the same types of pics. Not trying to downplay the site of a disfigured turtle, but I just keep reading about this garbage pile twice the size of Texas, I would really just like to see it in order to truly believe it.

Posted by Clint | April 3, 2008 3:12 PM

There is another angle to the plastic bag thing...what is a component in plastic that we are in such dire need of.. OIL. Plastic doesn't just grow on fucking trees. It takes a lot of chemicals and oil to produce plastic. And we are WASTING IT on these stupid little bags. The less plastic we can use the better. That goes double for aluminum.

How many hipster enviros drink PBR tall boys? Aluminum factories cause more greenhouse gas than cars, if you all really want to nit pick this shit to death.

Posted by Original Monique | April 3, 2008 3:13 PM

I don't really understand why so many people are freaking out about this. We got reusable bags at QFC for about a dollar apiece two years ago and they are still in great shape. Watch for sales. Buy a dozen bags, keep six in your car, line the bottom of your work/school bag with one for impromptu trips on the way home. Problem solved.

Here's my question, though: Can you really put cat litter waste down the toilet? Even if you use that "clumping" litter?

Also, what do you guys who don't have any paper grocery bags put all your recycling into? If we just put it loose in our bin instead of loading it into paper bags first, the garbage people lose half of it in our front yard when they tip the bucket into the truck and by the time we get home that day, it's blown all around the neighborhood. Ditto with any loose trash we've put in our garbage bin that wasn't first sealed into a plastic garbage bag. It ends up going all over our yard instead of into the truck as well.

Posted by Jane | April 3, 2008 3:15 PM

If you think stopping just a few of these grocery bags is going to make a difference to the plastic island in the ocean, you're deluded. For one thing, most grocery plastic is unaffected: the ones at the produce aisle, the styrofoam meat trays, the water bottles, the caps -- that stuff is a thousand times bulkier than the bags, and most of it's more likely to end up in the ocean. How much of that island is grocery bags? 1%? 0.001%?

This is the same kind of bullshit that erupted in the eighties with the disposable diaper scare. Remember? Supposedly 40% of our landfills were made up of disposable diapers, and we only had five years of landfill left, and we were all going to die. But it's not true; diapers have always been a trivial part of landfill, and landfills have ALWAYS been five years from filling.

Landfills in general are not even a particularly important part of ecological protection.

In the meantime, we have rather more pressing issues, like global warming, dimishing fuel reserves, a disappearing water table, imminent mass species extinctions, the disaster that is corn for ethanol and biodiesel production, and -- did I mention global warming?

Bags are stupid and meaningless. They're an excuse for rich-country nitwits to pat themselves on the back for being "green" as they load their canvas bags bulging with other plastic products into the backs of their giant SUVs.


Posted by Fnarf | April 3, 2008 3:18 PM

I just want to put out there that I have no problem whatsoever with banning plastic bags or styrofoam outright and don't really understand why that hasn't happened. If it's so bad for the world, why not just eliminate them altogether? I'm confused about the conflating of paper and plastic bags in this proposal.

Unless the only actual intent is to manufacture a new revenue stream and pin the reason on some kind of feel-good envirobandaid.

Posted by Um | April 3, 2008 3:24 PM

Fnarf for mayor!

Posted by Clint | April 3, 2008 3:26 PM

Original Monique, I drink PBR Tall Boys because they took away 40s of Malt Liquor from Capitol Hill

Posted by Bellevue Ave | April 3, 2008 3:30 PM

Unless the cat litter specifically says it is flushable, it is not. You might get away with flushing it occasionally but really - it's a direct line to an expensive plumber bill. The stuff will seriously clog your pipes. Someone in my building thoughtfully cleaned out their litter box in the laundry room sink and it was a disaster.

You can train your cats to go in the toilet (if you are patient and they are smart and willing enough - mine aren't!).

Posted by alger | April 3, 2008 3:37 PM

"the ones at the produce aisle, the styrofoam meat trays, the water bottles, the caps"

Most of those are there for the purpose of sanitation, they're not relevant at all. Plastic bags are convenience welfare.

I'm going to start whittling away at the "trivial 1%" of the problem. It might be small but it's something. What are YOU doing fnarf besides criticizing other people's moves? You going to wait around until you have the magic answer that solves every problem in one pass or are you going to actually do something constructive today?

Posted by El Seven | April 3, 2008 3:39 PM

@88, sure Fnarf, I agree with you which is why I have drastically reduced my plastic consumption and haven't bought new durable goods since August. As for garbage, I do use my leftover stash of plastic grocery bags, from back when I used to get them at the store, and one bag takes about 3 weeks to fill up.

But it's ridiculous to claim that because plastic bags constitute a small portion of the problem we should just ignore it. Small portions can add up to a lot. Yeah, we should also reduce shrink wrap in grocery stores, we should reduce our consumption of one-serving convenience meals, we should use reusable bags for produce, and we should buy most of our beans and rice in bulk bins. But I don't think it's realistic to assume everyone will do all of those things all at once. But getting people to use reusable bags is a step in the right direction.

I do think "slacktivism" is a problem. I thought Earth Hour was stupid. But charging money for plastic bags isn't slacktivism. It actually does achieve something. Okay, I see what your point in that it's about global warming and endangered species, etc etc, and I agree the government does have to get involved. But similarly, I think it's important for Americans to realize that we live in a very disposable culture, and that such a culture is just not sustainable.

Posted by arduous | April 3, 2008 3:39 PM


OK, Bellevue, I suppose anyone who drinks PBR can't be all bad (just mostly!).

BTW - didn't you know that Greg Nickels thinks that anyone who drinks 40's is a chronic public inebriate? Please go to the next AIA hearing (you know, when they try to expand it citywide becuase it's a ludicrous idea that's doomed to fail) and tell em otherwise!

@89 - I think it's the ongoing nickel and diming of Seattle residents that pisses me off the most about this (that, and I really don't want to have to stert buying garbage bags).

Posted by Mr. X | April 3, 2008 3:39 PM

If I am elected mayor, the sale or consumption of PBR will be punishable by death.

Posted by Fnarf | April 3, 2008 3:40 PM

Or.. We could just outlaw cats for the greater good of society.

Posted by Clint | April 3, 2008 3:40 PM

The whining over poor folks is bullshit.

Right now, today, most grocery stores refund you 5 or 10 cents if you bring your own bag. So if if a poor person bought a canvas bag for $1, it would pay for itself in 20 uses, and thereafter would be free.

I have one sturdy canvas bag that I have been using for 12 years, plus a few more I've accumulated over the last 5 years. If they get dirty, you can wash them. If they're made of cotton, they'll decompose when you throw them out, instead of floating in the ocean for the next decade.

Fnarf, I'm usually in agreement with you, but not this time. Yes, global warming is a more pressing issue. But that doesn't mean that all other environmental concerns are irrelevant. Making our society more environmentally aware is a complex and long term process. Getting rid of plastic bags may not be a huge priority, but it is relatively easy to accomplish and something we can solve very quickly. Getting people out of gas guzzling SUVs is harder to do and will take decades (or $6 per gallon gas).

I expect that over time we will slowly see the reduction or elimination of a lot of other plastic packaging too. At least I hope so. I see this as just an easy first step.

Posted by Reverse Polarity | April 3, 2008 3:48 PM


I read about some studies recently speculating that having cats around with their toxoplasma gondii parasites (50-80% of people are though to have picked up the parasitic infection) may correlate with behavioral and psychological changes in humans...

Posted by Um | April 3, 2008 3:49 PM

I'm in complete support of this. Looking on the bagger's end of things, home bags are usually much sturdier than any of the ones we use at my store and are easier to pack. Also, people tend to be less picky about how exactly their groceries are packed with canvas bags and won't yell at someone every time a can seems to slip in with the produce by accident.

Posted by Vivian | April 3, 2008 3:49 PM


I refuse to believe each paper/plastic bag costs the grocery store 13 cents. They buy in bulk and have vast collective purchasing power.

I'm not going to opine on the 20c fee, I'm just going to ask that we not try to justify our politics with fake "facts."

Posted by Dawgson | April 3, 2008 4:02 PM

@96 - all that will do is fuel the run on local hardware stores for beer bong supplies. has the war on drugs taught you nothing?

Posted by some dude | April 3, 2008 4:02 PM

@96 - death by PBR, I hope?

Posted by Mr. X | April 3, 2008 4:02 PM

Mr. X

I've actually thought about contacting SAB Miller to get a direct delivery of Olde E 40s to me once a month.

the things that piss you off are similar to the things that piss me off. one group of people deciding costs for other groups of people.

The whole developer thing strikes me as wrong (think of the benefits to construction workers, business to hot mama's during construction, etc etc) BUT if there was some way to create an incentive for better and more interesting development besides just blocking what some people don't like.

For instance I'd much rather see a surcharge or tax of some kind developed that penalizes developers for building something that doesnt integrate to the neighborhood well to the point that it encourages them to engage the community in design. Perhaps a tiered structure that correlates to community approval numbers reference in polling in results. I think this would be a far better approach than simply rejecting something, going to court, and delaying development.

Scenario; New Developers are charged a 5% tax on proceeds from sales of condo units on top of all other taxes they already pay. If there was a poll and 50% of the people liked they design and way the structure gelled with the neighborhood, that tax would be reduced to 2.5%, 75% would result in 1.25% of that tax. so on and so forth. This might actually provide a financial incentive to be proactive in design outreach rather than the badminton game of deisgn/submit/reject/redesign/submit/approve/appeal crap that uses a lot of resources.

The added benefit of such a system would be that money from the fund could be used to support low income housing funds, or at least offset the subsidies that developers get for offering a % of units as low income housing.

The thing that i think a lot of the current design review process fails to yield is a tangible incentive for developers to integrate with the neighborhood.

With a vote that binds to tax rate, you can't say that people dont have an influence on development, nor does one person have the ability to hold up the entire process.

This is all of course an idea but I think it would be worth trying out. It at least provides granular results rather than having something be rejected or approved, black and white.

Thats why I think this bag tax isnt so bad because there exists alternatives that remove the tax burden. And over time the outlay of money to buy the bags is recouped by avoiding the tax.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | April 3, 2008 4:05 PM


I keep a cardboard box outside my kitchen door, and simply deposit the cans/bottles in that. When it gets full, I empty it into the recycling bin and return the box back to its "home" ready to be filled again.

Works great.

Posted by COMTE | April 3, 2008 4:08 PM

You have a door to your kitchen? I should be so lucky!

The biggest problem for me in the recent month/3 weeks has been ants coming into my kitchen and taking away any little sugar molecules they can find. The paper bags were great. I also use the 24 pack boxes that they came in (I use my vegatable crisper as a beer repository) but that has the problem of leakage and the cans never seem to want to go back in the congruent order they came in.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | April 3, 2008 4:16 PM


Not wearing a seatbelt affects the insurance companies, and I think we all know what kind of pull they have in government.

Posted by keshmeshi | April 3, 2008 4:18 PM

@105, I agree, but probably not so good for coffee grounds, meat trimmings, potato peels, used comdoms and/or tampons...

Posted by trash | April 3, 2008 4:25 PM

Well, truth be told the door to my kitchen is the ONLY door I have.

Posted by COMTE | April 3, 2008 4:27 PM


True, but for organic refuse I keep a gallon-sized plastic bucket with a tight-sealing lid (purchased at Cash-N'-Carry for about $3.00) under my kitchen sink. When it gets full, I toss the contents into the composter, rinse it out with water and a swish of clear vinegar, and - viola! - ready to be filled again!

Used condoms go into the regular garbage; same with tampons, on the rare occasions they are left behind.

Posted by COMTE | April 3, 2008 4:31 PM

In my day we had this thing called a pantry, and we brought groceries home from the store in cardboard boxes, which we then used to make toys and sleds with.

I predict if Fnarf is the mayor, he will become as popular with The Stranger as our current mayor is, after a period of about a year in office.

Posted by Will in Seattle | April 3, 2008 4:32 PM

Luxury, luxury.

Me Dah used ta' chop off 'er hands an' feet, put 'em in the cardboard boxes, and THEN send us crawlin' eighteen miles ta' the grocers, where they'd stack more boxes o' tinned goods on our backs like pack mules, an' whip us all twenty-seven miles back tah the house, where Dah would chop off our arms an' legs and put 'em in the boxes we'd jes' brought home.

Posted by COMTE | April 3, 2008 4:45 PM

#61 They were on sale today for .99 cents and the smaller one that perfectly fits three wine bottles was 4 for $5. I bought a bunch today because two bags are very easy to handle in my wheelchair.

Posted by elswinger | April 3, 2008 4:52 PM

IMHO, plastic bags and styrofoam to go containers should be banned altogether.

Posted by copper | April 3, 2008 8:38 PM

Gosh Erica, just what traumatic event in your life turned you into such a shrill little harpy, anyway?

Posted by delia | April 3, 2008 9:36 PM

Raise your hands if you honestly believe either of the following:

1) The grocery stores will pass the savings on plastic bags on to the customers in the form of lower food prices.

2) The grocery stores will continue to give people 5 or 10 cents for bringing their own bags once people either have to bring their own bags or pay 20 cents to get a plastic bag?

Posted by Geneva | April 3, 2008 9:52 PM

Screw plastic.

It's time we start changing our lifestyles in this country. Our society cannot last if we continue to be so wasteful.

Our oceans and marine life (and food) are dying. We need to do something and do it now.

Plastic is forever.

Posted by passionate_jus | April 4, 2008 2:02 AM

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