For the second time in just two years, the Seattle City Council is getting ready to pass a ban on nearly all plastic grocery bags the kind used at supermarkets and convenience stores.
Despite this provision being overwhelmingly rejected by the voters of Seattle by referendum in 2009, the City Council last night held hearings on the idea---which, of course, makes little real sense since most of the members of the Council have already said they will vote for the ban.
The bill's sponsor, council member Mike O'Brien, has publicly stated that a report called "Keeping Plastic out of Puget Sound" by a group called Environment Washington has helped him understand the importance of this issue. This report supposedly makes the case that banning plastic bags is the right thing to do for Puget Sound.
The only problem with this report is that it is a sham.
NO ONE could read this report, including Mr. O'Brien, and conclude that any rational case has been made for a plastic bag ban in Seattle or anywhere else. This entire document is a series of non-sequitors written by someone without a clue how to do research, statistical correlation, or anything else except make political statements in favor of unproven science.
READ THE REPORT YOURSELF.
Given the fact I could raise about 250 objections to this piece of sloppy investigation, let's take three at random.
There is plastic in Puget Sound.
Yes, there is. BIG DEAL. Given the fact that plastics are and have been one of the most common substances on earth for nearly the past hundred years, you will find TRACE AMOUNTS of plastic everywhere. You find trace amounts in every human body. The Environment Washington report mentions plastic in Puget Sound but in no statistically significant amounts. The report wants to make the presence of plastic in the water as ominous and threatening but it's not. NOWHERE does this report mention any significant level of plastic in Puget Sound that would endanger human or animal life.
The proportions of plastic in Puget Sound water is microscopic, in parts per billion. No person or animal is harmed at such concentrations, nor does the report suggest a threshold of toxicity for plastic.
The plastic in Puget Sound comes from supermarket garbage bags.
This is the biggest lie in the report of all. There is no link proven or even attempted in the report between supermarket garbage bag plastic and plastic residue found in Puget Sound.
The author's of this report want you to believe Gil Grissom and his CSI team have conclusively linked through intensive chemical analysis like "Plastic DNA" supermarket bags to the plastic found in Puget Sound.
There is NO ANALYSIS in this report making such a claim. The idea that millions of plastic bags are migrating from landfills miles away into Puget Sound is ludicrous. Has any member of the Seattle City Council ever visited a landfill?
The almost certain causes of the plastic residue in the Sound are:
1. Decades of industrial production and manufacturing on the shores of the Sound now rotting.
2. Thousands of tons of plastic debris sunk and decaying at the bottom of the Sound.
3. Hundreds of tons of plastic debris added by boaters and consumers every year, things like soda bottles, food wrappers, etc.
Can the authors of the Environment Washington report please explain how tens of millions of plastic bags get into the Sound each year? HOW?
Plastic bag bans are accepted by the public.
There is no a single fact in the report that proves efficacy of a plastic bag ban beyond one year. NONE. The report even goes so far as to say this:
Fee programs and taxes can have multiple purposes. First, by establishing a price on disposable bags, governments can send a price signal to citizens to mo- tivate different behaviors. For example, in 2002 the Republic of Ireland established a15 Euro cent tax on plastic bags (roughly equivalent to about 28 U.S. cents per bag today), applied to consumers at the point of sale. In the first year of this policy, consumers used 90 percent fewer plastic bags. The tax grew relatively less effective over time, so the nation increased the tax in 2007. Overall, plastic bags have gone from 5 percent to less than 0.25 percent of the waste stream.60
It is clear that even the proponents of these bans admit that their effect fades over time. Consumers will just begin buying paper bags and paying the "tax" unless it is constantly boosted. Nowhere does this report make the case that these bag bans are wanted anywhere, Seattle residents sure do not want it. So why is the assumption made that people will meekly go along with the social direction suggested by the ban?
Also, notice how the Irish call the bag fee a "tax" but the Seattle City Council refuses to label the same mandatory fee as such. The bag fee is "voluntarily"unless you need a bag. Right now the bags are free to customers but what should that fee paid by consumers to retailers and then forwarded to the government really be called?
This Environment Washington report on Puget Sound is one of the most pathetic documents I have ever read in my life, filled with at least a dozen intentional attempts to mislead on nearly every page.
For example, the report coins the term "single use plastic bags" when describing supermarket bags but each of us knows that term is false. Many plastic bags are recycled, including reused by consumers for all sorts of purposes such as lining kitty litter boxes and kitchen wastebaskets, and even "Pooper Scooper" duty on the street.
Ask yourself this simple question. If you currently use the plastic bags you get at the store for your cat or for the trash pail in your home, what happens when these bags are banned and you can only buy PAPER bags at your local store?
Yes, you will use fewer SUPERMARKET plastic bags.
BUT you will use MORE non-supermarket plastic bags.
In other words, you won't be bringing home free plastic bags any more. You will have to buy the same number of bags. Same number of bags, just a different label given to them.
The efficacy and effectiveness of the bag ban is wildly overstated by the report, on purpose of course. The subject of forcing consumers to buy new plastic bags for non-grocery purposes is never addressed once in the report.
Aside from being a policy boondoggle, the plastic bag ban is anti-environmental according the City of Seattle's own analysis. Paper bags are far more costly to produce and recycle. Paper requires the cutting of trees, while plastic can be made out of virtually any natural product including waste corn husks. Paper production involves the use of dangerous chemicals like caustic lye and hydrogen peroxide.
Has any member of the Seattle City Council ever been to a paper mill? I will gladly take anyone who wants to go.
This bag ban is politically offensive. No member of the City Council ran on this agenda despite being elected back into office just a month ago. Seattle voters have rejected this idea once already. Does the city really need another contentious referendum and lawsuits on this issue?
PAPER BAGS in SEATTLE make no sense. Mr. O'Brien, it rains in Seattle. The other day when I bought a magazine at Walgreen's, the clerk asked me if I wanted a plastic bag because of the pouring rain. I guess under the new regime I could buy a paper bag---but why?
This foolish idea needs to immediately tabled and an investigation launched by the Seattle media over how such a worthless report could be given such high regard by politicians when anyone with an open mind who reads it can instantly conclude the report is bogus and a sham.
The Seattle City Council needs to stop catering to the elitist whims of a tiny sliver of the city's residents and start addressing REAL concerns that people who live in Seattle have, like the deteriorating infrastructure, rampant homelessness, rising street crime, and the declining business base.