Urban Politics #291: Getting to Zero Waste

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By Seattle City Councilmember Nick Licata

Urban Politics (UP) blends my insights and information on current public policy developments and personal experiences with the intent of helping citizens shape Seattle’s future.


Zero Waste Strategy

The City Council’s work plan for this year reviews proposed actions to implement our City’s Zero Waste Strategy. The origins of this approach lie in the comprehensive Zero Waste program legislation, sponsored by Councilmember Richard Conlin. It prevented the need for a new city dump on Harbor Island off West Seattle, or in Georgetown, and saved Seattle garbage ratepayers from the cost of building a new city dump by emphasizing recycling and waste reduction.

Following through on this commitment, the Council will look at incentives for self-haul trip reduction and construction and demolition recycling, and any additional proposed waste bans, taxes or advance disposal fees. If the City is truly committed to achieving zero waste, then we should revisit the challenge of how to reduce our reliance on plastic and paper bags.

A recent news item caught my eye regarding this issue. In mid-April a gray whale washed ashore at Arroyo Beach in West Seattle. Scientists with the Cascadia Research Collective in Olympia found 20 plastic bags in the whale’s stomach. While the cause of death wasn’t clear, this does give me pause.

After the Primary election last year I said that I would take a lead role in working on a more narrowly tailored solution after Seattle voters defeated a referendum by 53-47% to require a 20 cent fee on disposable plastic and paper shopping bags used in grocery, convenience and drug stores. After looking at the imbalance in campaign spending, some have argued that the election was essentially bought by the American Chemistry Council; they spent $1.39 million dollars on the “no” campaign, 96% of the total amount that opponents spent. The pro campaign spent $100,000, with most contributions from Seattle. Average donation for each campaign was $240,157 versus $278; the “no” campaign received over 800 times as much per average donation.

Other cities have carried out a variety of regulation of bags.

Washington D.C. instituted a 5-cent bag tax for both plastic and paper bags beginning in January, 2010. The DC Office of Tax and Revenue estimates that 3.3 million food and grocery bags were issued in January, down from 22.5 million per month in 2009, an 85% reduction.

To the north of Seattle, Edmonds passed a ban on plastic bags in July, 2009. San Francisco put a ban on plastic bags into effect in March, 2007.

Given the City’s Zero Waste program, and decision to not build an extra city dump, we may have to explore this issue again. Perhaps a more narrowly tailored regulation, such as a lower fee like Washington D.C. could make a difference with the voters.

I’m interested in hearing what you think.











Citizens are directed to the following website to complete a form to send an email to the Mayor’s Office. http://www.cityofseattle.net/mayor/citizen_response.htm

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