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Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Seattle Times Discovers Poor People

posted by on April 8 at 10:43 AM

In between campaigning against the estate tax and opposing an increase in the minimum wage, the Seattle Times has suddenly discovered: Poor people exist! And they, like everyone else in the city, will have to pay 20 cents if they choose to use paper or plastic bags instead of bringing their own!

The Times is outraged:

Nickels says we need to recycle kitchen waste and stop using plastic and paper bags to help the environment. The rub is, citizens are not rewarded. A rate increase pinches an already strapped lower and middle class.[…]

Leadership should find a way to make the numbers work better. Seattle is becoming a very expensive place to live.

Sure is. But charging 20 cents for a plastic bag—that is, charging something approximating the real cost, in both pollution and monetary terms, of producing that bag, carting it to the recycling service or the landfill, and getting rid of it—isn’t going to have a noticeable impact on anybody’s budget. (Unlike, say, capping the minimum wage at the federal level.) And if you buy five cloth bags for a buck apiece, you’ll make your investment back in just a few trips to the store.

And if the Seattle Times showed a lick of interest in the “lower class” in any other context than a hysterical, poorly argued screed against environmentalism, I might have less trouble believing they give a shit.

RSS icon Comments


Clearly ECB has never lived in a family where there was nothing for dinner since there was no money to buy food with.

Posted by Cato the Younger Younger | April 8, 2008 10:50 AM

I carry shopping bags -- and cardboard cartons -- in my car all the time and I have for years, and I hope this stupid fucking idea crashes in flames.

Stores should be able to give credit to shoppers who bring their own bags, not charge people extra for not doing it.

This is typical Erica C. Barnett policy -- punitive, elitist, smug, self-righteous, a political loser, and utterly ineffective.

But hey, look on the bright side, Erica. If nothing else, you are the perfect foil.

Posted by ivan | April 8, 2008 10:56 AM

I flat-out don't believe that the bags cost $0.20 to produce and haul away. If anything, the cost to haul away is a negative number, since as garbage bags the plastic ones make disposal much neater, cleaner and easier (of course, we're not going to talk about the plastic bin liners that people will buy to replace them).

The paper ones? Well, gee, the paper ones actually make composting your food waste EASIER, since you can just throw them in the yard waste bin with the food waste that you've collected in them.

But we must cherish our meaningless symbolic victories. It helps us keep our mind of our lack of interest in doing anything real. Hey, I know! Make buttons for people to wear that say "I have canvas grocery bags in the trunk of my SUV! Kiss my fat green ass!"

Posted by Fnarf | April 8, 2008 10:57 AM

Other countries and cities have taken this approach, and it's resulted in a lot less pollution and waste. The sense of entitlement displayed by some of the responders here is fucking repulsive.

Posted by AMB | April 8, 2008 10:59 AM

I want a button that says 'kiss my fat green ass.' Awesome.

Posted by Abby | April 8, 2008 11:01 AM

enviorementalists hug trees and loathe people.

Posted by SeMe | April 8, 2008 11:02 AM

So, uh, is this really going to be your pet cause now? A tax on bags?


Posted by um | April 8, 2008 11:02 AM

The Stranger must have discovered poor people too, most of them are on their staff, earning very little with terrible benefits.

Your faux-outrage is wearing paper thin, much like your dwindling print edition.

Posted by High Horse | April 8, 2008 11:02 AM

dear lord you all are such assholes. it buys the reusable bag, it puts it the groceries in it, it drags it's lazy ass home and gets a step closer to contributing their small portion to saving the environment. what is the big goddamn deal?

Posted by Emily | April 8, 2008 11:06 AM

@2: But Ivan, you mentioned that ugly word "car," so Erica has no use for you, either.

Now, were you to carry those boxes and bags on your bicycle...

Posted by tomcat98109 | April 8, 2008 11:07 AM

Seattle is becoming expensive?

Sweet. Maybe we can actually implement policies that don't artificially prop up the poor to subsidize their living in a trendy city they couldn't otherwise afford to live in...

Tacoma is only 20 minutes away... I hear they have a much cheaper standard of living. Just make sure to invest in your bullet proof vest.

Posted by Reality Check | April 8, 2008 11:07 AM

Wow... the comments on this post are weird. Have any of you guys seen what happens to plastic bags? Look outside your fucking window up into the blossoming trees, or go check out the waterfront. Not only do they take a lot of crude oil to produce but they harm our environment... poor people AND rich people alike should see that for what it is. It doesn't take any fucking money to reuse the bags that EVERYONE has at home. You don't want to be charged for a bag, then reuse the fucking bags you already have lazy fucking shitheads. Poor people collect bags, i know that for a fact. I'm not talking about bag people, i'm talking about your average poverty stricken family. Look under any kitchen sink and you'll find a whole mess of grocery bags. Just use them again. Wah wah wah. it's so hard to fix the environment, we should be rewarded! Get over yourselves and do something for the earth.

Posted by Carollani | April 8, 2008 11:08 AM

I don't have a sense of entitlement, AMB. I just don't like the conflation of cartoon environmentalism with real environmentalism.

Posted by Fnarf | April 8, 2008 11:08 AM

I'm all for getting rid of plastic bags, tax or not, but I have yet to find a decent cloth bag of the proper size for a buck.
When this goes into effect, free bags need to be offered for some length of time when you purchase groceries. They should be the same size as grocery bags are, and you should be given enough bags to carry everything you buy (I do not like to shop, so I try to only go about twice a month. Ever seen how many bags you can fill shopping for 14 days worth of food for two adults and one child?).
When that length of time has come to an end (say, a month after the tax goes into effect) all stores should carry re-usable bags at the check out for about a buck.
That should satisfy everyone.
If not, how about anyone who qualifies for food stamps or WIC gets a certain number of free bags also?

Posted by Bella | April 8, 2008 11:11 AM

Careful, Ivan. Despite your impeccable Democratic Party bona-fides, some idiot here is going to call you a Republican for saying heretical stuff like that.

Posted by Mr. X | April 8, 2008 11:15 AM

Seriously, seriously there is to be yet another diatribe on plastic bags when Dan has posted the bit about Chertoff suspending 30 laws so that the border fence can get built? And, not only that but the courts are forbidden from overriding Chertoff?

Does it really make you feel better to focus on plastic bags while our national government is following the playbook for totalitarian regimes?

I understand the concept of needing to feel empowered at a local level to feel like you are making a difference. But, the plastic bag debate seems to me to be akin to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Posted by PopTart | April 8, 2008 11:15 AM

I also currently save any disposable grocery bag I get from the store and re-use, but the plastic ones are not suitable for re-use for groceries, as they are flimsy and usually get completely torn too easily, or get small rips from the corners of boxes. They are perfect as liners for small trash cans, like the ones you may have in a bathroom, or as many other ppl have said, to dispose of kitty litter or whatever.
The paper handle grocery bags are great for recycling, composting or just for carrying crap to work, as well as to re-use for groceries for as long as they last.
Even with all these re-uses for bags, I don't mind seeing them go, as long as we are given reasonable options for replacement.

Posted by Bella | April 8, 2008 11:16 AM

I'm all for offering free reusable bags to those using food stamps or WIC coupons. But on the whole I agree with 4 and 12. And the "oh the poor people" wailing is a bunch of entitled people for whom 20 cents isn't going to mean squat who don't want to be inconvenienced crying over being asked to make a small change in their shopping habits (or to pay for their convenience).

Posted by genevieve | April 8, 2008 11:16 AM

Yes! cartoon environmentalism leads to sponges at the bottom of the sea.

Posted by SeMe | April 8, 2008 11:17 AM

wow, more idiotic comments form fnarf, who somehow equates getting rid of gross waste as 'cartoon environmentalism'. you are so ill-informed and loud-mouthed you're like a cartoon version of a slog poster.
as someone who did grow up very, very poor i have to say that the 'will no one think of the poor!' argument as offensive. as though poor people in the US somehow don't care about the giant city of floating plastic trash destroying the ocean. the only reason anyone would not support this is because they are lazy.

Posted by borntoyummy | April 8, 2008 11:21 AM

Mr. X @ 15:

At home I keep a big herking box full of doubled-up paper shopping bags. Those are what I use, again and again till they wear out. I have long since recycled the plastic ones. I guess that means I have a sense of entitlement or something.

Posted by ivan | April 8, 2008 11:22 AM

Erica I must have missed your and the Stranger's exposes on poverty, labor disputes, renters rights, the exploitation of undocumented workers, homelessness, people working 2 and 3 jobs, the unemployed, etc.

Posted by Trevor | April 8, 2008 11:22 AM

I'm all for getting rid of plastic bags entirely. For the past six months, at a friend's encouragement, I have brought my own reusable bags or just refused the bag and carried my items out of the store in my hands if I only have a few. (For some reason that gets me some strange looks from cashiers.) It's really not that hard, people! I've made several trips to Europe, and they make you buy a bag at the grocery if you don't bring your own. Oddly, they are plastic bags, but a more durable (reusable) bag like the ones you get from Bartell's.

Posted by thankshappy | April 8, 2008 11:23 AM

Trevor, you know as well as I do that we do cover all those things. And Cato @ 1: I'm assuming you haven't either, since you apparently think 20 cents is enough to pay for a meal.

Posted by ECB | April 8, 2008 11:26 AM

Feel free to actually, you know, point out where I'm misinformed, borntoyummy. Maybe you could start by telling us what percentage of that floating island is made up of grocery bags. Versus, say, plastic water bottles, or bottle caps, or toys, or tires, or....

I think it's you who is misinformed; that you are the one who can't make distinctions between things that matter and things that don't. "For the earth", sure, sure it is.

Posted by Fnarf | April 8, 2008 11:29 AM

The problem here isn't that the "true cost" of plastic bags is being added to your bill. It's already baked in to the cost of groceries. But rather than mandate that grocery stores start charging for bags separately -- which would be a reasonable and non-intrusive thing to do -- the City decides to get in on the action.

Now I'm being charged for the bag and have to pay the City to do God knows what with the fee revenue. Shit, a good deal of the fee just goes back to the grocery store as an "administrative fee."

People aren't upset because the City wants to discourage the use of plastic bags. People are upset because the City wants to find another fucking revenue stream and hide behind a shield of eco-friendliness.

Posted by joykiller | April 8, 2008 11:29 AM


You and me both - and I hate buying garbage bags. Guess that makes me a Republican, too.

Oh, and ECB, that .20 cents will buy in fact purchase a Top Ramen (or two if you buy a cheaper generic brand on sale) - which actually is a meal for all to many people.

Posted by Mr. X | April 8, 2008 11:32 AM
dear lord you all are such assholes. it buys the reusable bag, it puts it the groceries in it, it drags it's lazy ass home and gets a step closer to contributing their small portion to saving the environment. what is the big goddamn deal?

Just quoting this because everyone else commenting is insane.

Posted by poppy | April 8, 2008 11:35 AM

I just don't understand the outrage regarding this issue. Since I first heard about this last week I have been carrying bags to the store with me and it has not been a big deal.

Since when can poor people not bring bags to the store? Do they lack the mental capacity to plan in advance? Do they lack the ability to make a one time investment of a dollar or two buying a duffel bag at Value Village? Are the incapable of carrying a few loose items in their hands?

I've lived dirt fucking poor and my lifestyle could have easily supported this tax. Get over it.

Posted by Sir Learnsalot | April 8, 2008 11:36 AM

why are people against this?

1) it's not a real problem.

it is a start. and though a small step, it is a step, and an easy one at that. are you against it? later, we can move on to suvs and make a bigger difference. what's amazing is that there is debate over this, poptart, because it is such a small step. it should be a no brainer! can you imagine the debate when we try to make a larger, better change?

2) it's unfair to the poor.

this is unfair to lazy people maybe, but not to the poor as a class. first, it hardly costs anything. second, it is avoidable by taking a few simple steps. third, the city is providing bags free of charge. the rich, the lazy, and the poor are all responsible for the environment and the cost of goods.

3) it's nanny state legislation.

it's not nanny state legislation, and it should be judged by its own merits. nanny laws protect you from yourself. this protects us (our environment) from a growing problem. this is closer to capitalism making all people pay for the true cost of a good.

Posted by infrequent | April 8, 2008 11:37 AM

@30 Amen and Thank you!

Posted by jonglix | April 8, 2008 11:41 AM

ECB, I believe the Times didn't use the term poor people, they used the term already strapped lower and middle class. That encompasses alot more than the poor, and I'm guessing it includes you as well as me.

I agree with you that plastic bags are bad for the environment. SO LET'S BAN THE DAMN THINGS. And if the grocery store wants to charge me for slightly more expensive paper bags, that's their choice. I'll gladly pay it, or bring my own bags, or shop elsewhere. I'd rather pay the store to recoup its costs than pay 20 cents to the city in exchange for its smug environmental paternalism.

Posted by Joe M | April 8, 2008 11:43 AM

If bags are so bad that no one should be allowed to have them, then just ban them outright, forever. The end. Otherwise, you are tacitly allowing them while also taxing the poor under the phony excuse of "modifying their behavior", like the smoking tax. This is a regressive, punitive tax idea, and it is in fact you people sticking up for this revenue stream disguised as some sort of feel-superior enviro-bullshit that are the assholes.

Posted by Um | April 8, 2008 11:45 AM
Does it really make you feel better to focus on plastic bags while our national government is following the playbook for totalitarian regimes?

I understand the concept of needing to feel empowered at a local level to feel like you are making a difference. But, the plastic bag debate seems to me to be akin to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

@16: I had a moment of enlightenment the other day when I was talking to my dad and realized that I was spending my time commenting on posts like this one while our freedoms and economy are being not-so-slowly eroded.

I think people don't have any sense of how to tackle big issues, so we aggressively tackle small ones instead?

Posted by Dawgson | April 8, 2008 11:47 AM

@26, they've already stated where the fees will be used. It's up to you to make sure they keep that promise. If it was up to me, it would all go to providing reusable bags to people who are in a financial bind.

"Seattle Public Utilities estimates the city would collect $10 million per year. About $2 million would go to provide and promote reusable bags. The rest would go toward waste prevention, recycling and environmental-education programs."

And fnarf, perhaps other people will give up the numbers that they use to calculate their decisions when you give up yours. Considering that you think that yard waste bins are a practical and common occurrence around here (along with yards), I'm doubting you have much to back your "logic".

Posted by El Seven | April 8, 2008 11:47 AM

what really is a tax on the poor is biofuel...those who truly love the poor need to start advocating for using less fuel and not biofuel. already, palm oil is being priced above what many malaysians and indonesians can afford. rain forest is being cut down for palm oil plantations. australia (large wheat producing country) is in a drought, and more corn for biofuel (not for food) is being grown in the us. wheat prices are soaring. tax the bags and put the money towards density.

Posted by Jiberish | April 8, 2008 11:48 AM

i'm not sure plastic bags are so bad that no one should be allowed to have them. they should, however, have to pay the true cost.

joykiller, you make a good point. this is, in a way, forcing stores to sell them separately. in either case, you could not be sure that the store would reduce prices to reflect the change (market forces suppose they would in such a low profit margin industry). i like the idea of the tax iff it went to dealing with this specific issue. unfortunately, the track record of other specific taxes would suggest you are correct.

Posted by infrequent | April 8, 2008 11:49 AM

Now here's a really important story from today's LA Times...

San Diego candidate admits public masturbation

Associated Press

A former San Diego councilman currently running for a seat in this year's City Council election apologized Monday after pleading no contest to a misdemeanor charge of committing a lewd act in public.

"I made a mistake. I accept full responsibility for my actions. And I promise not to let it happen again," John Hartley said in a statement released through his campaign consultant and reported on the San Diego Union-Tribune's Web site.

Hartley was placed under citizen's arrest and booked into jail on March 27 after he was allegedly seen urinating into a cup and masturbating on a street in the upscale Kensington neighborhood near downtown. He was later released on $27,000 bail.

Hartley's attorney, Michael Pancer, entered the plea on his client's behalf at an arraignment hours after charges were filed. A misdemeanor charge of urinating in public was dismissed by Commissioner Robert C. Rice.

The candidate was sentenced to three years' probation and a $500 fine, according to Chris Morris, a supervising deputy in the city attorney's office who handled the case.

Messages left seeking comment from Hartley's campaign spokesman, Larry Remer, weren't immediately returned.

Hartley served on the council from 1989 to 1993. He is running in the June 3 election to replace termed-out Councilwoman Toni Atkins.

Hartley planned to stay in the race, the paper reported.

Just to put it all in perspective....

Posted by Mr. X | April 8, 2008 11:49 AM

erica,have you lost your damn mind?seattle is becoming a place i no longer want to live.between the politics,and people like

Posted by kennith duane | April 8, 2008 11:51 AM

how does that relate, mr x? if he used a plastic bag instead of a cup he's still be in jail.

Posted by infrequent | April 8, 2008 11:53 AM

As of now, there aren't very many reliable estimates of how much of the 'plastic soup' is plastic bags, though most experts say it is 'significant'. You are ill-informed first and foremost because you seem to think plastic bags are not a waste problem. Why you continue to spout that nonsense is beyond me.

"Chris Parry with the California Coastal Commission in San Francisco said the so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch, has been growing a brisk rate since the 1950s, The San Francisco Chronicle reported Friday.

The trash stew is 80 percent plastic and weighs more than 3.5 million tons.

"At this point, cleaning it up isn't an option," Parry said. "It's just going to get bigger as our reliance on plastics continues."

Parry said using canvas bags to cart groceries instead of using plastic bags is a good first step to reducing reliance on plastics."

Check and mate.

Posted by borntoyummy | April 8, 2008 11:58 AM

When the fucking Irish are more reasonable than we are, it's time to pack it up and go home.

Posted by F | April 8, 2008 12:01 PM

I echo the comments about why is this such a big fucking deal. It is a very small step, but it is a step, nonetheless. And it involves practically zero effort and cost (the $0.20 tax would be totally avoidable through using plastic/paper bags you already have, bags you get from other types of stores, or bookbags).

I think one of the issues here is that many people on Slog already re-use their bags (as garbage bags, kitty litter, composting, etc.) and so feel like for them there would be no environmental improvement over the current situation. But, let's try to keep in mind that most people are not as conscientious...

Posted by Julie | April 8, 2008 12:06 PM

the plastic bags are ugly garbage. Who wants them in your hands, in your car, in your home?

Without this tax, those of us who don't wan't them have to pay for everyone else to have them for free.

Substituting a requirement that the stores charge for these bags like they charge for anything else is an acceptable substitute.

But it is so Seattle to have ANY proposal shot down because of the following arguments"
1. it does too litte.
2. it does too much.
3. me personally I do the change without this regulation/tax/rule.....why do we need government at all?
4. I like the tax, just not what they are going to spend the money on.
5. Other places do this successfully, this proves it will fail here because we are precious and unique.
6. It will make poor people change and pay something. We don't give a shit about them when we impose sales taxes all over or reject the latte tax, though, only when we use them to oppose something we don't like already.
7. Ohmygod if it costs me an extra $1 a week it must be bad, excuse we while I drive down to Starbucks in my Explorer to get a nice fattening lattecino for $4.95.
8. IF we do this, then later on we might do other things that would be truly dumb like banning all the plastic in the whole grocery store.
9. The polar bears are going to die anyway.
11. Let's keep debating this for 5 more years doesn't it show how healthy our democracy is -- wait -- has everyone expressed their ill informed stupid viewpoint -- wait, there's a few more people who haven't had their say -- their input is valuable -- wait --

Posted by unPC | April 8, 2008 12:07 PM

Of course it's also expensive as hell for most people, including a lot of people who haven't seen their incomes raise in the last 2-3 years, like myself.

Erica, .20/bag does have an effect on people with budgets. I myself was a cash strapped college student. I know for a fact that trying to get a week of groceries for $30 would've been impossible if I had to pay for bags to carry them home.

Posted by apres_moi | April 8, 2008 12:13 PM

Fnarf, I've said before, that I completely agree with you that just eliminating plastic bags isn't enough. I think we should get rid of plastic bottles, excess plastic packaging. I think that bottles should be refillable so that a bottle of Coke is used many times before being down cycled. Plastic bags isn't enough. But, to me, it's a start.

But I'm interested as to what you would propose. Where should we start? What laws limiting plastic waste would you support? If a fee for plastic bags isn't the answer, then what is?

Posted by arduous | April 8, 2008 12:21 PM

Fnarf is right, this is "cartoon environmentalism." But then again, so is 99% of the hoopla over "global warming," but I'm not in the mood to get into that discussion today.

Posted by Fifty-Two-Eighty | April 8, 2008 12:21 PM

@41, I've heard of this before.

I wonder if we should develop a spacecraft to send all of this to the sun. I'm sure it'd take 5-10 years for a spacecraft to head to the sun.

Posted by apres_moi | April 8, 2008 12:24 PM

Just a hint - if you go to Fred Meyer and buy 6 bottles of wine you can put them in a free cloth bag which makes a nifty reuseable container for groceries later. Plus, you save 10 percent.

Posted by Will in Seattle | April 8, 2008 12:28 PM


Are you kidding me? Have Slog readers been exposed to massive amounts of mercury? Yes, the extra $1 you would have to spend on 5 bags (that's if you were so lazy you couldn't bring them from home) would definitely have resulted in starvation in a $30 budget. After all, that's a 3% reduction in purchasing power.

Posted by F | April 8, 2008 12:30 PM

Plastic bag tax ==> less plastic bag use ==> less overhead for grocery stores ==> slightly cheaper groceries. Thus, for those who can carry around a vinyl/cloth bag, this should be a net benefit in the long term, and carrying around a bag is not a huge burden. (You can buy ones that fit in your pocket, people. Get over it.)

Now if only ECB might realize that moving to a more expensive urban home actually is a huge burden for many.

Posted by tsm | April 8, 2008 12:34 PM

@48, funding for spaceships is drying up, at least in the US. The Shuttle fleet will be grounded in less than two years and the plan to replace it is getting threatened with massive budget cuts if not being cut altogether. Launching that amount of mass clear of our gravity well to fall into the sun is so cost-prohibitive it's a fairly insane solution, anyway.

Unless you're plotting a Futurama episode or something.

Posted by Um | April 8, 2008 12:37 PM

Wow, the answer to my question @16 is yes, yes there is going to be another diatribe about plastic bags. Absofuckinglutely unbelievable.

At least all this hot air about plastic bags has kept the clinton/obama debates pleasantly quiet.

Posted by PopTart | April 8, 2008 12:44 PM

This is NOT a tax. It is people being forced to pay for what they use to wean them off the welfare of convenience they've somehow determined to be a civil right. This is something that would normally happen in the free market if it wasn't a product that sourced from such a heavily subsidized and entrenched industry that is petrochemical. Remember when a meal was included for "free" during your airline flight? Now they cost and HOLY SHIT, tickets are cheaper. Coincidence? I think not!

Posted by El Seven | April 8, 2008 12:49 PM

Speaking for myself only, I think charging .20 for plastic and paper bags will end up INCREASING the amount of plastic I use. I need something to line my bathroom trash with...I mean, c'mon. We're talking tampons, Kleenexes, condoms, etc. So I'll have to go buy a bunch of those heavy thick bastards to go in there...maybe I'll go to Whole Foods and splurge on the reconstituted plastic bags. Right now, every tenth time I go to the store, I ask for plastic and use those thin, rapidly disintegrating store bags for my bathroom trash (they're only good for one more use anyway, because of the aforementioned disintegation).

The rest of the time, I ask for paper bags, which I use for both trash and recycling (and we recycle almost's at least a 4-1 ratio between recycle bags and trash bags). If I don't have paper bags from the store, I'll either have to go buy a bunch of them or I'll go out and buy a PLASTIC garbage can, which I'll then line with the same PLASTIC I'll be using for my bathroom trash. I might also buy a PLASTIC recycle can, which I'll line with PLASTIC (because it's kitchen trash, full of messy stuff).

So instead of contributing biodegradable paper bags to the recycle and occasionally the trash, and even more occassionally a thin plastic bag full of Kleenex and my wife's tampons, I'll be throwing a bunch of store-bought plastic bags into both the recycling AND the trash. And I'll have bought two plastic garbage cans, thus perpetuating another plastic producing stream of revenue. Oh, and I'll be spending a bunch of money on the Whole Foods bags and new trash cans.

Meanwhile, the stores that have already worked the cost of bags into the price of their food will keep those prices steady, (or do you believe against all reason that the stores will actually drop their prices?). And because I'm buying my own bags now, I'm essentially getting charged twice. I'm sure the poor will love that math even more than I do.

I'm sorry to be so cynical, but I have to agree with fnarf on this one.

Posted by Matthew | April 8, 2008 12:50 PM

@51: I have my doubts about any business not just using this as an excuse to make more profit...

Posted by Dawgson | April 8, 2008 12:58 PM

@54, have vice taxes "weaned" all the foolish people you have so much contempt for off their destructive behavior and kept the mentally ill and poor from buying cigarettes and booze?

And what airline are you flying on right now, that airline tickets are "cheaper"? Do you suppose three airlines going under last week could be related to desperate cost-cutting throughout that industry?

Other than that, great points. And by "great" I mean, greatly retarded.

Ban the bags, just ban them. Don't tax them and therefore let them continue being used. Ban them completely.

Ban styrofoam, too, while you're at it. Why is that still legal to manufacture and use?

Posted by Um | April 8, 2008 1:01 PM

yes, poptart, nothing is important except what you think is important. we shouldn't do small, simple, effective, good things if there is a little argument because it would be better to focus on larger, unrelated issues that are even bigger firestorms.

this is not a vice tax in the normal sense. this is about paying for the cost of good (or at least not subsidizing that cost to all shoppers).

grocery stores are low profit margin businesses.

this will not cost you extra. poor, starving students can use their backpacks. or the free bags provided by the city of seattle.

similar fees have reduced the usage of plastic bags elsewhere. (to address both the vice idea and the effectiveness argument.)

are you done making your excuses now?

Posted by infrequent | April 8, 2008 1:14 PM

Not hurt poor people? 20 per bag is an extra 10-15% tax increase on every tall-boy of Steel Reserve!

Posted by Timrrr | April 8, 2008 1:25 PM

Infrequent@58: PopTart (as I understand him/her) is just saying we need to have a sense of scale about things.

This is definitely a vice tax. "Paying for the cost of the good" is when we give a discount to shoppers who bring their own bags.

One is punitive, the other is not.

Posted by Dawgson | April 8, 2008 1:32 PM

To those of you who feel like stores ought to provide reusable bags for free for a period, I ask, why? Why should the stores have to pay?

That's ridiculous. This all stems from our historical sense of entitlement for convenience.

What did people do when they went to the market before bags were made available for free? Oh, that's right. They *brought* their own!

I know, I know. It's a crazy concept.

And to those of you call this "cartoon environmentalism" (looking at you, Fnarf), maybe you're right that this isn't our number one concern--that there are bigger fish to fry, but it's a start. Isn't it? Isn't it one thing we can check off the list?

Progress isn't "all or nothing".

Posted by Jack | April 8, 2008 1:33 PM

How is something that has no discernable benefit, and only exists to assuage the consciences of the deluded, a "start"? Start on what? When are we going to stop STARTING and, you know, actually get going? We started 35 years ago with recycling, didn't we? And bags are extremely useful things.

Why not start with a ban on styrofoam trays, or water bottles, if you have to START?

Oh, and Erica, in my poverty days, I had MANY, MANY 20-cent meals.

Posted by Fnarf | April 8, 2008 1:35 PM

the idea of a refund for brining your own bag is backwards. they should charge for bags -- which is what the plan does. a refund implies that the cost is rolled into the purchase already; a charge does not.

and it is not a vice tax in the common sense. it is a tax in the common sense. unless you want to consider every tax a vice tax. the vice gasoline tax, the vice property tax, etc...

Posted by infrequent | April 8, 2008 1:39 PM

@58 Yes, I am the center of the universe, thanks for noticing.

Here's what I would really like to hear--after several days of debating this issue has anyone from one side or the other been convinced to change their position?

p.s. @60 I'm a her. A hetero her.

Posted by PopTart | April 8, 2008 1:40 PM

fnarf, do you really see absolutely zero gain by this measure? i thought you just thought plastic bags were a small problem. are you now saying they are not a problem at all?

Posted by infrequent | April 8, 2008 1:43 PM

the center of the universe is a lonely place. everything moves away from it.

first, i'm not sure how many people have not been persuaded before reading some of what is written here. aside from that, i'm not sure what you're getting at. are you saying we shouldn't discuss things because some people don't change their minds? wouldn't we not discuss most things then? and if it is such a small deal, wouldn't that mean we could just do it without discussion?

Posted by infrequent | April 8, 2008 1:50 PM


"And what airline are you flying on right now, that airline tickets are "cheaper"? Do you suppose three airlines going under last week could be related to desperate cost-cutting throughout that industry?"

The loss of jobs in a rapidly changing and highly complex industry is another issue and not relevent here. The irrefutable truth is: Prices for the core service of getting somewhere fast are cheaper for the average consumer. The people that just need a seat get what they want and pay a fair price for it. The people who want luxury and amenities get that and pay more for it.

I can personally remember exactly what I paid for a ticket from NYC to LA in 1983, can you? Don't take my word for it if you don't want to, check with the FRB

Are you seriously trying to compare plastic bag use with mentally and physically addictive drugs? Seriously?

Posted by El Seven | April 8, 2008 1:50 PM

To everyone who's griping about how unreasonable a plastic bag tax is, guess what: it's already been done in Ireland.

But you know, this would never work in America. We have different cultural needs, like laziness and assholery.

Posted by ugh | April 8, 2008 1:59 PM

@66, ooooo ouch. Now I truly feel part of Slog because someone's being mean to me. Thank you!

Posted by PopTart | April 8, 2008 2:03 PM

@45 - aprez_moi

What exactly do you carry your books with? A bag? How could you ever use it for something other than books!? Oh no! So hard to do!


Posted by Sir Learnsalot | April 8, 2008 2:07 PM

Yeah, I love how there's all this griping and "it'll never work, doesn't do anything but make us feel good, telling is what to do!!" crap without looking at what happened when it was instituted elsewhere. We're talking serious reductions in non-degradable trash with little serious impact on the average Joe. All the bloviating here is recockulous.

Posted by NaFun | April 8, 2008 2:11 PM

poptart -- i was not trying to be mean; i'm sorry it came across that way. charles had posted about the ever-expanding universe yesterday, and i was just eluding to that.

the rest of my post is no more mean then you insisting my participation in this post is Absofuckinglutely unbelievable. by that i mean, why do you post here to say we shouldn't be discussing this? you had an opinion about this you wanted to share as much as i have an opinion i want to share. i'm not sure either of us convinced anyone... but i think we both were hoping we might.

Posted by infrequent | April 8, 2008 2:15 PM

Many of the people who are poor, yet wealthy enough to be going to a grocery store, are not going to be affected by this. If you're going to a grocery store to purchase enough that you need a bag for it, you have a refrigerator. If you have that, you can afford the small initial investment for reusable bags to avoid paying .2 per bag. If you do not have a refrigerator, you aren't buying quantities at the grocery store that require bags to begin with.

So let's be honest and acknowledge that this wouldn't affect the truly destitute. Walk into the living spaces of people who are poor yet have a refrigerator. You'll also find a tv or two WITH CABLE. You'll find cigarettes, cell phones, lottery / scratch games, payday loan receipts, and various other unnecessary material things. The majority of these people CHOOSE to be poor. It's a combination of a lack of education and this advertising-based consumer culture that has led them to this choice, but that is no excuse for not starting to fix this issue with plastics. Show me someone who can't afford to eat as a result of this, and I'll show you someone who could afford to eat by stopping smoking, not using payday loan services, cutting cable, canceling cell phone service, and investing in something other than a lottery ticket.

Posted by "poor" | April 8, 2008 2:34 PM

@64: You're always saying such smart things. I guess I was just wishing you were a homo him... :)

Posted by Dawgson | April 8, 2008 2:37 PM

Basically, if you're insisting on your right to continue to use the plastic grocery bag you are saying that some small convenience is more important than doing even one tiny thing to reduce your waste stream. How noble is that?

Posted by NaFun | April 8, 2008 2:51 PM

In the unlikely event that anyone who mattered agreed with me that a good way to help ease the transition to re-usable is to give them out free at the grocery for a limited period of time - I never suggested that the stores bear the full cost, although I would not say that they shouldn't pay for part of it. They are already providing bags for free. Assuming that they really do cost .20/bag to produce and otherwise deal with, in the course of one year, they might spend $48 providing disposable bags to someone like myself. If we are talking about bags that could feasibly retail for a buck, and I go to the store twice in one month to fully supply my family, let's say that would be a cost of $20 for bags to me. That would be assuming that I take advantage of the system and not re-use the first ten bags they gave me to cart home my $200-$300 worth of groceries in. They'd still be saving $28 in just the first year. But I am honest, and would only get one round of free bags, so they'd only shell out $10 on me. Plus, I've already got 3 of my own, so that's only $7.
Additionally, the bag "tax" or whatever you want to call is supposed to, in part, pay to promote the use of re-usable bags. How better to do so?

If there was no program in place to encourage people to start using re-usable bags, other than charging them .20/bag, I'd still buy my own damn re-usable bags. As I said, I've already got some. Hopefully, at least 90% of the Slog commenters will do so also. But what everyone else? Should we really be so worried about the "poor, poor grocery stores" having to put forth a few bucks to help the environment? 'Cause you know that someone who won't buy their own re-usable bag won't ever buy one. How many disposable bags are they going to waste in their lifetime? I know the .20 is there to clean up after those a-holes, I just think that if we're really committed to making change, that we do simple things that will make people feel good, in addition to the simple things that piss them off.

Oh, and anyone who thinks that your groceries will ever get any cheaper for any reason should probably put down whatever you are smoking. There is no way groceries will get cheaper because stores are no longer handing out free grocery bags.

Posted by Bella | April 8, 2008 2:51 PM


Good for you that you manage to reuse all your plastic bags, but you are the minority. Most people toss their plastic bags into the garbage, even though they can be recycled.

And I see no reason why you have to use plastic bags for recycling. Rinse out your cans and bottles, and you shouldn't have many problems with dirt accumulating in your kitchen's recycling bin.

As for my personal anecdote: I tried using grocery bags for plastic bags several years ago. The damn things don't fit in most trash cans and they get holes in the bottom, making it impossible to use them for small or damp bits of trash. I'm impressed by people who manage to reuse all their plastic bags, because I don't even see how that's possible.

Posted by keshmeshi | April 8, 2008 3:03 PM

Fnarf, I guess I don't see how a tax on plastic bags isn't a "start" in reducing plastic waste. Yes, let's also ban styrofoam. I support you! And yes, let's ban plastic bottled water. No one else will agree with you there, but sure, I will stand in full support. But IMO, reducing plastic bags *is* an important step. Plastic bags do constitute a good chunk of plastic waste. They're hard to recycle because they can easily get caught in machines, and because all plastic bags aren't made of the same plastic, they must be downcycled. (Single stream plastic is the most useful in terms of recycling.)

No, I don't have evidence of what percent of the plastic landmass in the ocean is made of plastic bags, I don't think anyone knows for sure, but most of the articles provide the anecdotal evidence from people who have seen the landmass and most of those people think that plastic bags constitute a significant amount of that mass.

Yes, bags are useful, but most people have too many. By taxing bags, people are more likely to evaluate whether or not they actually NEED a bag.

Posted by arduous | April 8, 2008 3:26 PM

I haven't heard anyone mention this: I wonder if grocery chains will eventually more strongly resist measure like this once the research shows that when a consumer brings their own bags, it creates a mentality that there is a finite amount of purchases they can carry out of the store?

The whole idea of a supermarket is to get people into the store, then make every effort you can to get them to by products they had no intention of buying.

Posted by Dougsf | April 8, 2008 3:33 PM

@72, see that's where you lost me because Charles' post yesterday made my brain collapse in on itself.

You are right, everyone is entitled to post all they want. And I'm entitled to think it's tiresome that we've been debating plastic bags over several posts the last couple of days. Of course for some reason I'm still choosing to read the posts so I'm not sure what that says about me...

p.s. @74, dammit I knew if I was a gay man I'd be getting more dates in Seattle. But, alas, I'm girl who likes guys.

Posted by PopTart | April 8, 2008 3:41 PM

wow...i didn't know that free plastic bags could excite people to such passion. i would be much more concerned with the ability for people to put food INTO any bag of choice. food prices on the rise should be the issue not this surcharge/tax.

Posted by Jiberish | April 8, 2008 3:42 PM

I take it back about not finding any decent reusable bags for about a buck. I was in Fred Meyer today and decided to get one of the ones they usually sell for .99 - they are black Polypropylene bags (which apparently are recyclable also) made by Earthwise - on sale for 89 cents. I also received a .05 bag refund for using a reusable bag. Go Fred Meyer!
Either they have changed the size, or it seemed smaller than it is - upon getting it home and unfolding it, it is comparable to a standard plastic bag (slightly smaller than paper) and has a sturdy bottom support, so is much better than plastic, especially since its straps can be used over-the-shoulder. These bags are black, with a tan screen print of produce, small and simple. It says "Fred Meyer" but in small print. Safeway didn't blink an eye when I used it in there just now, and they also gave me a 3 cent credit.
So go buy some bags at Fred Meyer already.
I'm gonna go get 7 more.

Posted by Bella | April 8, 2008 4:04 PM

Reusable bags for a buck, eh? Now I'm wondering what's going to happen when the price of reusable bags matches the [new] mandatory price of disposables...

Posted by El Seven | April 8, 2008 4:19 PM

@79 - I don't drive, and am too cheap to take a cab or the bus with my groceries. I also use my own bag 90% of the time - environmental issues aside, plastic bags are much more likely to rip on the walk home - so I always do my shopping with an eye toward what I can carry for 8+ blocks. As a result I go to the store more often, and I'm pretty certain I end up spending more money in the grocery store than I would if I shopped once a week (or every other week).

Posted by genevieve | April 8, 2008 4:19 PM

There Will Be Bag

Posted by CP | April 8, 2008 6:00 PM

@65: look up the word "trivial". It's not nothing, but it's as close to nothing as it can be without being nothing.

Posted by Fnarf | April 8, 2008 6:35 PM

I'm in your reusable canvas sack.

Posted by laterite | April 8, 2008 6:59 PM
Posted by infrequent | April 9, 2008 9:18 AM

#84 - I'm pretty much the same way with shopping. I walk to the store probably 4 times a week, until just recently I finally invested in a good messenger bag I can ride my bike comfortably with a huge load of groceries in. That isn't for everyone, but if I don't need'em, I can't imagine why someone that choses to drive to the store instead does.

I support getting rid of plastic bags, or charging a few cents for them, even if it's just a drop in the bucket of the overall issue. There's enough of those damn things swirling in the little trash tornadoes on my street alone.

Posted by Dougsf | April 9, 2008 1:43 PM

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