Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Battling the Bagmonster

Seattle is one referendum vote away from becoming one of the first cities in the United States to take a huge step toward reducing disposable bag consumption. The City Council has already voted to institute a 20 cent fee for disposable plastic or paper bags, and now the ordinance must be upheld by a public referendum in order to be enacted.

According to the Seattle Green Bag Campaign, which is working hard to support Referendum 1, the "optional" green fee pertains to people who don't shop with a reusable bag and is expected to reduce disposable bag use by an estimated 80-90%. Most of the 20 cent fee will go toward providing every household of Seattle with at least one reusable bag, with extra bags for those on low or fixed income, as well as waste reduction education programs.

This Tuesday, the city of Edmonds, WA took things even further when the city council passed a plastic bag ban, which will go into effect as soon as a pending environmental review has been completed.

Why all the fuss about disposable bags? Seattle uses an estimated 360 million plastic bags per year, and while at 8%, our recycling rate is slightly higher than the abysmal national rate of 3%, most of these bags are bound for the landfill. Worse still, many more will make their way out to waterways via storm drains and creeks. Once in the waterways, they can interfere with marine life, causing the death of marine mammals and sea turtles who mistake the bags for food. Others create huge plastic gyres or "garbage patches" in the middle of oceans. What's more, plastic bags don't biodegrade, they just break down into smaller and smaller toxic pieces.

Despite being universally reviled as an environmental menace, Bagmonster always has time for the ladies.
According to Heather Trim, the Urban Bays and Toxic Program Manager at the People for Puget Sound, "Even when plastic bags are recycled, they are often bailed up and sent to China where they are downcycled into lower grade products or stockpiled." Even if plastic bags are properly disposed of, the environmental price tag is already high as they are a petroleum byproduct that is shipped all over the world only to be used once and then likely thrown away.

If you live in Seattle, you can support the project by donating time or money to the Green Bag Campaign, telling your friends to be sure to vote to approve the all mail-in Referendum 1 ballot, and volunteering with the campaign.

If you live elsewhere in the country, encourage your city council members to institute a similar ordinance. The websites for The Surfrider Foundation and The Sierra Club are excellent places to start when initiating environmental action in your community. Other areas in the United States that are considering or have already taken similar actions include - San Francisco, CA, Westport CT, thirty Alaskan villages, Annapolis, MD, Austin, TX , Baltimore, MD , Berkeley, CA , Boston, MA , Chicago, IL , Los Angeles County, Madison, WI , Maine, Marshall County, IA , Maryland, Massachusetts, New Haven, CT, New York, NY, Oakland, CA, Philadelphia, PA, Plymouth, PA , San Jose, CA, Santa Cruz, CA , Santa Monica, CA , Texas, Virginia, and Washington D.C.

So join or start a bag ban movement in your hometown, and of course, always shop with reusable bags!

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