Friday, August 14, 2009

Some observations about the bag tax

Seattle needs to decide whether to accept a twenty cent bag tax.

Some observations:
- When I was in Italy for three months in 1994, I went grocery shopping my first week. The clerks looked at me, confused - where was my bag? How did I expect to bring home my purchases? In Sienna, you bring your own bag. No questions, just everybody does it. People in Sienna are rich and poor, young and old, and somehow, they all do this.

- Most stores sell reusable bags for one or two dollars, or even give them away for promotions. The reusable bags are not expensive, and what's more, most people have a dozen reusable bags or totes that they could use already, without buying more. Most people I know also have a stash of paper and plastic bags from previous shopping trips that could last them months.

- The plastics industry has spent over a million dollars to try to fight this legislation. It could have provided a million reusable bags instead for the same cost.

- When asked, many Seattleites oppose the bag tax, feeling annoyed by yet another expenditure. But those same Seattleites point out that if they were charged for bags, they'd be more likely to bring their own bags.

- The poor are not likely to suffer from this legislation, despite what the anti-reusable-bag folks have said. Poor people are not stupid, and they are perfectly capable of bringing their own reusable bags with them, and they will. Food banks will hand out food in reusable bags, and people will donate reusable bags to the food banks. (I have a half dozen of them in my attic waiting to be delivered.)

- Approximately 30% of customers are bringing their own bags already. I think that this is up about 30% from five years ago. People CAN change, and though people resist change, it isn't that painful. 30% have already figured that out.

- I decided a year or two ago not to bring any more one use bags into my house. In that time, I think I've brought in five (because I forgot my bag, or my items didn't fit into my bag). I used to bring home 1-2 bags a day on average, so by that calculation I've saved probably 600 bags in a very short amount of time.

- The way that I remembered my bags was by promising myself that I would not shop without them. If I'm in the grocery lineup and remember that I forgot them in the car, I exit the line (taking care not to make people wait for me) if necessary, I park my cart somewhere, tell a clerk I'll be right back, and run to my car to retrieve the bags. This is annoying, and so after doing that perhaps three times, I don't forget my bags any more. If I can learn, you can too.

- I carry a bag in my purse. When buying Tessa a few school clothes items at Old Navy last week, I said "I have my own bag" and put the clothes in that bag. Invariably, I get the same comments from the clerk each time. No, not "why on earth did you bring a bag?" but "oh that's such a cute bag - what a good idea!" I love my purse bag because it has a darling style, it's very strong (I've hauled milk, canned goods, etc in it before with no problem), and best of all it folds up really small so that it fits in my purse and I simply always have it with me. I use it, refold it, and back into my purse it goes, alongside my wallet and keys.

In my opinion, if the bag tax passes, the best thing that could happen is that no money would be made on the bag tax. If everyone brought their own bags, nobody would have to spend extra money at all, and the environment would be a winner. And "the environment" is you and I: the air we breathe, the water

we drink. We all win.

Think about it, please.

And in case you've missed it other times, the bag I love is called Envirosax. They come out with new patterns each season. I have two of them, and one is coming up on two years old, I think, and none-the-worse-for-wear. I use one of them almost daily. (I only have two because I am a bag lady who loves a pretty bag!)
They are available widely; PCC stocks them, and so do some of the cute shops in The Junction.

Ryan has a Chico bag, which is a lot more masculine (it's plain), but the same idea and a little less expensive:
We got his at Thriftway.

I'm not in the bag business, so I'm not invested in anybody buying bags. You can use the freebie given to you at your last conference, or you can reuse the plastic bags in your cupboard, or you can stick things in your purse (purses are really large these days!), or tuck them in your diaper bag, or your computer bag, or your briefcase, or for small items, just say "I don't need a bag" and carry it out in your hand.

This isn't rocket science. And it isn't difficult, either, and once you get used to it, it becomes second nature.

Thanks for considering.


SusanL said...

I'm not good at it yet but, I do it fairly often. I also hope the bag tax passes. It is 100% in the person's control if they pay it or not. So, quit complaining and bring a bag!

Anonymous said...


This is just another attempt at social engineering. When does it stop? Who decides what is worthy of more social engineering? And truly, it is just another way to force the public to pay for the views held by some. Do I use reuseable bags? Yes I do. But not every time. Would I change my behavior if they taxed my grocery bag? Sure, any thing you tax, you get less of that. So I would be less likely to shop in Seattle. So would plenty of others. Mostly, I shop at Costco, and do not use any bags at all.

So I would just ask... when are too many taxes too much? When is the social engineering oppressive enough? Or expensive enough, like our new light rail to nowhere... for how many billions?! I will tell you: when you spend two hours commuting to work, that is when! This is just another example of it, and I am against it.

Uncle Mike

Anonymous said...

Where I'm at, we need brown paper bags for recycling, especially for loose paper like mail. It's a requirement. It is problematic - want to bring own bag to save the plant, need a continual supply of brown paper bags for recycling to save the planet. Ugh.

Kristina said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone!

Uncle Mike, I agree that this is a form of social engineering, just like public education, publicly funded transportation (be it roads or light rail), etc. But unlike you, I think that some social engineering is necessary and appropriate. I think that the bag tax is appropriate, because it encourages people to do something reasonable, and because the penalties (twenty cents) are equally reasonable. And who decides? This time, the people decide. I voted YES. We will see if I am in the minority or majority on this round! I love you, and on this one we might need to agree to disagree. :-)

PS If you shop at Costco, you can still bring your own bag(s). I did that on Friday. ;-) Costco IS very clever to get us to take their broken boxes away so that they don't pay for bags OR have to pay additional recycling fees - they get us to take their "garbage" for them! I got tired of breaking down those boxes, so now I pack my own bags and let them handle their own recycling issues.

Health/Life Balance said...

I am also a big fan of this and voting yes, but my husband thinks it's punitive and is voting no, so that cancels me out. :) He said that being punitive and charging people isn't the way to instill change. I don't agree, but he's entitled to his opinion, no matter how surprised I was by it. :)

I don't think it's punitive because we have choices. I have used my own bags for a very long time, and not just in grocery stories - at the department stores, outlet malls, etc. - they look at me like I'm crazy. But for the past year I've been on a quest to take no bags whatsoever. My only exception has been when I get chinese takeout - it always seems to leak all over and would be worth paying for a bag for so I don't have to clean the mess up.

We probably have at least 25 reusable bags in the trunk of our car. Costco even has these huge reusable bags that will hold one of their 10 packs of tissues. I also have two of the envirosax bags you mentioned just so I can roll it into my pocket when I'm not necessarily planning on shopping, and I have the second one at my office for purchases there.

Someone mentioned needing the paper grocery bags for recycling. I don't know where you live, but in Seattle we get dumpsters or containers for that. I have a paper grocery bag in my house that I fill with recyclable paper, and then I take it outside and dump it into the dumpster, bringing the paper bag back in. I've been using the same paper bag for 6 months now.

It's been incredibly easy to give up the bag habit.

To be honest, I don't expect this to pass the vote. But I hope I'm wrong!

Jody at Twelve Rivers said...


We, at Twelve Rivers, couldn't agree with you more!

The U.S. is sadly behind the rest of the world in embracing the use of reusable shopping bags. We are hopeful that people will willingly choose to make a difference in our environment by adopting the reusable bag lifestyle without being forced into it.

While we applaud the vast numbers of consumers using reusable bags, the inexpensive polypropylene bags being promoted across our country right now will provide the next wave of trash in our landfills. They are constructed of thin pieces of plastic film punctured to look like woven fabric. They simply will not last for years with any regular use.

We believe consumers should choose bags they love, while considering the durability and size most convenient for their needs. This will bring joy with use and create a long-term habit of using reusable shopping bags.

Twelve Rivers |Stylish Reusable Shopping Bags