Seattle Plastic Bag Tax, Referendum 1, 2009

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The Seattle Plastic Bag Tax, Referendum 1 was on the August 18, 2009 ballot in King County for voters in the City of Seattle. Referendum 1 was a local veto referendum challenging a 20-cent tax imposed by the Seattle City Council in 2008 on plastic bags, specifically, on every carryout bag distributed by grocery, drug and convenience stores in Seattle.

The plastic bag tax was passed by the Seattle City Council in what its supporters described as an effort to encourage the use of reusable grocery bags by making plastic bags more expensive. According to the legislation the council included funding to provide every Seattle resident with one or more reusable grocery bags.[1]

Opponents of the legislation said that it would cost Seattle residents $300/year.

A "yes" vote on Referendum 1 is a vote to keep the tax. A "no" vote is a vote to do away with the tax.

On August 18, 2009 the measure was defeated, meaning that the tax will not go into effect.[2] Below are the voter results according to King County officials on August 24, 2009 at 3:44 p.m.[3]

  • YES 67,524 (46.93%)
  • NO 76,346 (53.07%)Defeatedd

Text of measure

The question that will be on the ballot is:

"The Seattle City Council passed Ordinance No. 122752 concerning imposing a 20-cent fee on disposable shopping bags. A sufficient number of voters signed a petition to refer the ordinance to a public vote.This ordinance would require grocery, drug and convenience stores to collect the fee for every disposable shopping bag provided to customers. Stores with annual gross sales of under $1,000,000 could keep all of the fees they collected, to cover their costs. Other stores could keep 25% of the fees they collected, and would send the remainder to the City to support garbage reduction and recycling programs. The stores would get a business-tax deduction for the fees they collected."[4]

Supporters of tax

"Yes on 1" television ad


Supporters, like the Green Bag Campaign, argue that the fee, similar to the law in Ireland, will have a positive result because according to the group it is expected that in Ireland the fee will help reduce bag use by up to 90%. But, in addition to reducing plastic use and encouraging the use of recyclable items, the funds generated by the fee will go to Seattle Public utilities in order to pay for an educational campaign and encouraging consumers to use reusable bags, a bag giveaway program for soup kitchens, low income families and those who need assistance and to offset the costs of solid waste and recycling programs in Seattle.[5]

The opposition argues that the tax will be harmful to low-income residents but the Green Bag Campaign argues differently. According to supporters the City of Seattle plans to distribute free reusable bags to those with low or fixed income, including food kitchens and other social services.[6]

Reduce bag use

The group has compiled a list of reasons for why plastic bag use should be reduced:[6]

  • nonrenewable resources
  • impacts wildlife
  • toxic contaminants
  • clogs storm drains/recycling machines
  • contaminates commercial composting products

According to Seattle Public Utilities studies, the City of Seattle uses approximately 292,000,000 plastic and 68,000,000 paper shopping bags every year - a total of about 360 million bags.[6]


In support of the fee, the Green Bag Campaign has spent approximately $3,000. The majority of the funds are reported to be from environmental groups and private citizens.[7] As of July 2009, the Seattle Green Bag Campaign has raised about $65,000.[8]

Below is a chart that outlines major donors to the Green Bag Campaign:[9]

Contributor Amount
The Blume Company $7,500
People for Puget Sound $7,108
Brady B. Montz ( programmer) $5,784
Pono Products Inc. $5,000
1 Bag at a Time $5,000
Allen B. Montz ( Software Developer) $2,810
Martha Kongsgaard (Kongsgaard Goldman Foundation President) $2,800
Constituent Dynamics $2,688
Sierra Club Cascade Chapter Seattle Group $2,500

The Green Bag Campaign has compiled a list of endorsers here.

Opponents of tax


The Coalition to Stop the Bag Tax argues that the tax, as it was passed by the city in 2008, will not help reduce plastic bag use and is the only state in which the tax exists. According to the group, in Ireland, where a similar tax was enacted, they use even more plastic bags of all types than they did before the tax. Additionally, the group argues that the fee will cost consumers $300 a year.[10].[11]

The American Chemistry Council, a primary donor to the Coalition to Stop the Bag Tax, has helped fund a local radio ad that presents a husband and wife stating their concerns about the new tax. The announcer on the ad states: "A tax on grocery bags is not what we need in this economy."[12]

According to Seattle Resident Jane Petrich: "I carry recyclable bags in my car every day — always with me. And 80 percent of the time I forget to take them in with me. But they're in my car!" Petrich states that she is against the tax because it would have a negative effect on the low income shoppers.

Steve Russel, the managing director of the American Chemistry Council's Plastics Division agrees with Petrich, stating: "There are ways to achieve what we all agree is the goal of more recycled material that doesn't punish people on fixed incomes or people less able to pay those kinds of fees."

Don Brunell, columnist for the local Covington Reporter newspaper, cites a recent study to justify opposition: "The bag tax is intended to save energy and reduce landfill waste, but a study by the Washington Policy Council casts doubt on that goal. According to WPC, the bag tax would reduce Seattle’s garbage by only .0014 percent per year."[13]

An excerpt from the report states:

"The advocacy group and bag tax supporter Bring Your Own Bag estimates the bag tax would reduce the amount of garbage Seattle sends to its Oregon landfill by about 50 loaded railroad cars a year. At first this seems like a lot, but the

city produces about 100 rail cars of garbage per day. Industry sources say plastic grocery and retail bags make up less than 0.5% of solid municipal waste in the United States, and that plastic disposable bags use far less energy and resources

than reusable bags, which ultimately must be discarded anyway. Assuming the bag tax policy performs as supporters promise, it would reduce the yearly amount of garbage produced by Seattle by .14%.[14]

Opponents are not only pointing out a potential negative impact, but are also accusing the ordinance of being poorly written. They state that a bureaucracy would be subsequently implemented to enforce the bag surcharge if the ordinance is passed.


The American Chemistry Council and 7-Eleven Stores are the primary donors to the Coalition to Stop the Bag Tax. The American Chemistry Council, a plastic-industry lobbying group, has reportedly provided approximately $238,000 for the campaign against the referendum. Dallas-based 7-Eleven stores have spent approximately $10,000. The Stop The Seattle Bag Tax Coalition has raised a total of about $750,000. They have spent $239,000 to gather signatures.[8]

Timeline of donations

  • March 2009: 7-11 Stores reportedly donate $10,000 to the campaign against the tax. The American Chemistry Council total reaches $238,000.[15]
  • July 2009: The American Chemistry Council contributes $500,000 to the Coalition to Stop the Seattle Bag Tax.[16]
  • August 9, 2009: The American Chemistry Council's total contributions towards the campaign against the tax hits $1.4 million.[17]


In September 2008 the group submitted 22,000 signatures, 2,000 more than the required 20,000 signatures for the veto referendum to be placed on the 2009 ballot.[11][18]


The issue had again come to light with further attempts by advocate groups against plastic bags to ban them in stores. The city Council had agreed to address the proposed ban at its December 5, 2011 meeting.[19] The city officially banned most plastic bag use in the city, a unanimous vote by the city enacted the legislation.[20]

See also

External links


  1. Seattle Post-Intelligencer, "City OKs 20-cent fee on plastic, paper bags," July 28,2008
  2. The Seattle Times, "Seattle voters don't buy shopping-bag charge," August 19, 2009
  3. King County, "Election results, August 24, 2009," August 24, 2009
  4. King County Elections, "City of Seattle," accessed July 9, 2009
  5. Green Bag Campaign, "Referendum-1," accessed May 7,2009
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Green Bag Campaign, "Frequently asked questions," accessed August 16, 2009
  7. The Stranger, "Bag Fee Planned for August Ballot," March 25,2009
  8. 8.0 8.1 Seattle Post-Intelligencer, "Plastics industry gives $500k to stop Seattle bag tax," July 20, 2009
  9. City of Seattle, "Contributions to Seattle Green Bag Campaign," accessed August 11, 2009
  10. Christian Science Monitor, "Industry group fighting Seattle plastic-bag tax," September 15,2008
  11. 11.0 11.1 Stop the Seattle Bag Tax," accessed May 7,2009
  12., "Debate Over Plastic Bags Heats Up In Seattle," August 10, 2009
  13. The Covington Reporter, "Bag tax in Seattle is a bad idea," August 3, 2009
  14. Washington Policy Center, "Overview of the Proposed Seattle Bag Tax," July 2009 (dead link)
  15., "Bag Fee Planned for August Ballot," March 25, 2009
  16. The Christian Science Monitor, "Industry group fighting Seattle plastic-bag tax," September 15, 2008
  17., "Big $: Anti-Seattle bag tax bucks break fundraising records," August 9, 2009
  18. Newsweek, "Paper Or Plastic? It’ll Cost You," August 30,2008
  19. The Seattle Times, "Ban plastic bags in Seattle? Fight heats up," December 4, 2011
  20. The Seattle Times, "Seattle City Council bans plastic shopping bags," December 19, 2011