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Plastic bag laws worked in Seattle and will in Kirkland | Letter
Regarding plastic bag recycling and the letters submitted by Vivian Weber on Nov. 14 and Johnmicheal Monteith Nov. 25, I have experienced the outcome of a successful plastic bag recycling law and saw benefits that neither of them mentioned. After living in Kirkland for 23 years, I moved to Seattle for five years. I recently moved back to Kirkland and the availability of plastic bags was one of the things I quickly noticed.
After a 2009 initiative that proposed a 20 cent charge failed in Seattle, voters passed a plastic bag recycling law in 2011 that charged 5 cents for paper bags. Mr. Monteith in his letter suggested that a better way to underscore sound environmental choices would be to, “…thank those individuals who are doing the right thing…” Actually, as I experienced it. When the law went into effect in Seattle in July 2012, it turned out to be a great way to empower community members to reward themselves and build the kinds of neighborhoods and community that are often discussed but elusive to realize. While at first many people were challenged to be consistent about bringing their own bags, once it became a habit it was relatively easy. Over time, I noticed many types of people with piles of cloth bags in their carts—especially those who have to deal with the logistics of getting into and out of a car with children. Clearly, by making the effort they were being models for their children too.
Something I found gratifying as well was the actual outcome of the law in requiring that people purchase bags. I occasionally shopped at retail stores and rarely bought much but when I did get in line with a few things the cashiers would gleefully offer me their 5 cent bags. It seemed to me that what had been presented before the law as a negative had turned into a positive. Now, when retailers did provide a bag they had income. Moreover, it’s logical that because they are using fewer bags, they spend less money buying and storing bags.
On one of my last grocery shopping trips in Seattle I was making my mental list of what to bring and I realized it automatically included my bags. I could see a success. The voters of Seattle had passed a law that would benefit both the city and the larger world. Through a chain of activism by a group of community members, a government and wider citizen response and ultimately, a law that had been configured as well as possible to meet the needs of all participants, a change has occurred.
Small things like plastic bag laws in Seattle and around Puget Sound contribute to larger things. They empower people to create the communities they want — cleaner places that support and recognize the long term value to communities of sustaining and protecting natural resources and the sound environmental choices that Mr. Monteith underscored. In a simple way they also help people to reverse devastating impacts to the world's environment. I think it was a net win in Seattle, will be in Kirkland and, eventually, worldwide as well.
Joanne Hedou, Kirkland