Seattle Plastic Grocery Bag Fee (2008)

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The Seattle Plastic Grocery Bag Fee referendum was attempting to overturn an ordinance approved by the city of Seattle, King County, instituting a mandatory $0.20 fee for each bag used to take groceries home from at the grocery store.[1] The fee was proposed by Mayor Greg Nickels and approved by city council July 28, 2008. Just days after its passage, opponents to the fee mobilized a petition to remove it.[2]

The ordinance was set to go into effect Jan. 1, 2009.

This measure was approved in a different form and placed on the August 2009 ballot where it was defeated Seattle Plastic Bag Tax, Referendum 1, 2009


The Coalition to Stop the Bag Tax was coordinating the campaign.[3]

State Rep. Dean Takko supported removing the fee from Seattle grocery bags. He said: "I don’t have an issue with plastic bags, but the idea of charging for paper really started to bother me."[4] The main force behind the petition to remove the fee however, came from Washington Food Industry (a union of grocers) and Progressive Bag Affiliates of the American Chemistry Council.

George Griffin, a spokesman for the Coalition to Stop the Seattle Bag Tax, said the fee was "opposed by a broad spectrum of citizens and stakeholders as unnecessary, placing an unfair financial burden on Seattle's working families."[3]

The American Chemistry Council, which hired Griffin for the Seattle effort, was fighting similar proposals in California and Hawaii. The group funded the Seattle petition drive.[3]

The Washington Food Industry, which represents independent grocers, was against the bag fee, and it said it was "eager to educate the public about the environmental benefits of reusable shopping bags and the issue of the proposed Seattle bag tax."[3]

"WFI members were very concerned about environmental issues, but believe strongly it was better to educate and reward citizens regarding the benefits of reusable bags rather than imposing a punitive tax," said Jan Gee, president and chief executive of the grocers group.[3]

Opponents was a mother's group that emphasizes ecological awareness. They had started the "Decline to Sign"[5] campaign in opposition to the petition drive to remove the plastic bag fee.

City Council President Richard Conlin said that in response to the successful signature-gathering drive, the council could choose to ban plastic bags at grocery stores altogether. "We don't really want to go there. We want to give people options," Conlin said.[3]

The ordinance approved by the council was intended to give shoppers a choice, Conlin said, to take their own bags or pay the fee on each new plastic or paper sack.[3]

"We need to stop the input of plastics into our waters," said Heather Trim, Toxic Program Manager for People For Puget Sound. "Plastics waste has nowhere to go but to swirl around the ocean."[3]

Brady Montz, Seattle chairman of the Sierra Club, commended the City Council and Mayor Greg Nickels for taking the environmental stand. "We need to stop waste at its source," Montz said.[3]


Supporters of the referendum collected 22,000 names on petitions in 11 days. King County elections officials determined that 15,099 of the signatures filed for the referendum were valid. The required number of signatures was 14,374.[6][3]

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