Seattle’s Green Coup: The Death of the Plastic Bag

26 Jul
Posted in: Reality, Washington
By    4 Comments

It’s true. As of July 1st, 2012, the plastic bag is dead…murdered by the city of Seattle, complete with full (and hilarious) obituary in the Seattle Weekly (which reminded us of our dear old Chicago Reader, except with even more advertising). Quote: “In lieu of flowers, please throw something into the ocean capable of choking a small marine animal.”

Seattle isn’t the first city to ban the plastic bag. It seems like the entire West coast is banning the bag, from Seattle to Portland to San Francisco to Los Angeles (and lots of other cities and counties in CA); North Carolina jumped on the no-bag-wagon long ago. As in response to all bold actions, the plastic bag has formed its own lobby and is fighting to maintain its honor.

But the funny thing is, the bag ban did immediately force us to change our habits. I actually remembered to use the reusable bag I carry around in my purse. Rather than being charged $0.05 for a paper bag, I got a $0.10 credit for using my own bag (Whole Foods donates $0.20 to one of three charities instead…which is nice but also…annoying?). When I forgot my bag one day, we just wheeled the cart out to the van, full of loose groceries. Which made me wonder…has grocery theft increased? It sure would be easy to casually walk out of the store with a full cart and an old receipt in hand.

Chicago tried to do something similar to change people’s habits — they implemented a $0.05/bottle  tax on bottled water. But no one at the checkout asked you if you were sure you wanted to buy a bottle of water. No one paid you $0.10 or donated $0.20 to charity if you would take a cup of water instead. You just paid $0.05 more and went about your day as usual.

On one hand, I applaud Seattle. On the other, I hate to buy plastic garbage bags…I’m used to getting them for free. If only there were some middle ground.

Speaking of garbage, Seattle has pulled off another coup in that realm. The city composts and recycles anything and everything that can be composted or recycled. It’s amazing. You just get a small bin for garbage — it’s picked up once a week, but they’re debating moving pick up to every other week. It’s all seriously complicated, but with a printed poster and the help of the internets (and spying on the neighbors), we successfully got our friend’s trash picked up on trash day. We felt an incredible sense of accomplishment. Seattle should feel an incredible sense of accomplishment for implementing such an ambitious project on such a large scale.

And another thing…people grow things in the their yards. Not just flowers, but fruits and vegetables and…chickens. And goats. The laws were just changed to allow people to have chickens and goats; we almost stepped on a loose chicken hiding in the grass on 50th Street. In addition to livestock, we saw cabbages, corn, artichokes, broccoli, raspberries, apples, etc. etc. growing in people’s tiny gardens. Not just growing, but thriving. Supposedly summer has just started here, but people are already harvesting fresh produce from their gardens.

But wait! Our last night in Seattle, we ordered a feast of Indian take-out, which came in…gasp…a plastic bag! Shouldn’t all vendors have thrown out their backlog, preferably directly into Puget Sound, as of July 1st? Or should they be allowed to use up their existing supply? Nothing’s simple.

Downtown Seattle from the Bainbridge Island ferry.

Downtown Seattle from the Bainbridge Island ferry.

The Space Needle from the ferry. No plastic bags in that water.

The Space Needle from the ferry. No plastic bags in that water.