6 months ago
Friday, August 21, 2009
Seattle recently failed to enact a fee for plastic bags. What does it mean for the larger climate change debate? This is what I think. What about you?
Labels: global warming, plastic, politics
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I agree that carrots are preferable to sticks. That said, sticks do work. Witness, for example, the payment of income taxes. I send money to the IRS every year not because of any carrots, but to avoid the big, terrifying stick of being imprisoned for income tax evasion. If the Seattle bag fee existed, it would be an effective stick. People would grumble, but they would also use fewer disposable bags.
I suspect that the reason the bag fee was rejected by Seattle's voters is simply that over 50% of the voters are still heavy users of plastic bags. It might be a good idea, strategically, to avoid ballot proposals like Seattle's until more people have stopped accepting disposable bags each time they shop. A similar strategy enabled anti-smoking laws to be passed in many places. Anti-smoking laws pass in places where fewer than 50% of the voters smoke, not in places where over 50% of the voters are regular smokers.
As for the question of how to get over 50% of voters to stop accepting disposable bags, the only suggestion I have is to educate voters on the costs to them of plastic bag production and disposal. This could include, for example, the amount of tax money spent on removing plastic bags from drains to prevent flooding. Once voters understand that other people's careless disposal of plastic bags means tax money having to be spent on clean-up programs, they may be more inclined to accept bag fees.
I don't live in Seattle, but from the press, my understanding is that the plastic lobby spent millions and millions of dollars to defeat this bill via advertising. I'm not sure what their messaging was that turned this eco-conscious and progressive voter pool against it, but obviously it was effective.
My 2 cents: 20 cents is too high. Start low with 10 cents.
I have no problem with them charging for plastic bags. That was the norm at the grocery stores when I was in England, and it really helps you remember to bring your reusable bags.
Well, I was disappointed to see the bag tax fail. I would have supported it. I actually would have supported a larger tax, more like $1.00 per bag, because the point is to motivate people to REMEMBER TO GET THEIR REUSABLE BAGS OUT OF THE GD TRUNK OF THEIR CAR (I am totally and completely guilty of this, BTW).
The reason it failed in Seattle is that yes, the plastic lobby spent millions on advertising. I know what you're thinking: what could they have said that would have inspired a relatively green city to vote down an eco-conscious tax?
Basically they hyped up that this would be a regressive tax, affecting low-income families the most. The publicized an experiment done by a local food bank where the food bank handed out re-usable bags to their clients, but their clients were largely unable to remember/keep track of/etc their reusable bags. But in this experiment, there was no consequence when the clients didn't bring their bags back (the food bank wasn't going to NOT give them their food or something).
So basically the plastic lobby beat out the eco-conscious by appealing to people's social conscience.
I think the stick can work, especially when it's a relatively mild stick and the point is to build new good habits. But unfortunately big money won out this time. They knew their audience and they knew just what to say...
They really failed. A huge quantity of plastic bags dissolves during 100-1000 years. It must be considered inadmissible.
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