UPDATE: Burgess's office corrects information it provided previously, saying, "Councilmember Burgess will be exploring options this summer, but there is no specific target date for legislation."
The Seattle City Council will begin drafting a bill to ban plastic shopping bags and introduce it into committee this summer, says the office of council member Tim Burgess. The proposal has caught the attention of the national plastic lobby that is considering fighting the bill. Details of the language in the legislation, which the council could approve by fall, have yet to be finalized; Burgess says by email that he is "just starting work on necessary ordinances."
In a blog post last week, Burgess had vowed to take leadership on the issue—but left open whether he planned to work on an ordinance. If passed, it almost certainly ensures a clash between the plastic lobby and the city council.
This is the second time the city council has attempted to regulate bags. The council passed a 20-cent bag fee in 2008, which triggered an anti-bag-tax referendum, funded with $1.3 million from the American Chemistry Council (ACC). Voters repealed the measure following the plastic lobby's campaign, the most heavily funded campaign in Seattle history. Burgess called that "a massive, million dollar hoodwink campaign by the oil industry." He added, "It's time for Seattle to ban the use of single-use plastic shopping bags. An outright ban!"
Now the plastic lobby could return to Seattle.
"We are dismayed that folks would bring that up again and look at a bag ban," says Keith Christman, managing director of plastic marketing for the ACC, a coalition of plastic manufacturers.
Seattle Public Utilities reports that people in Seattle use approximately 292 million plastic bags a year.
Christman argues that bans, including the one in Seattle, would be detrimental to plastic recycling programs. "15,000 drop off locations around the country could go away if plastic bags are banned," he warns. The ACC has not yet taken a formal position on the bill proposed by Burgess or committed itself to a campaign or lobbying. "I think we have to wait and see what happens," he says. He notes that the Seattle public is largely on their side of this issue; 62 percent of people in Seattle oppose a bag ban, according to a survey commissioned by Seattle Public Utilities in 2008."We have to see what the city council does," he says. "For whatever reason they are interested in it, the data doesn't support that kind of action, and residents don't support that kind of action."
However, the ACC is willing to keep investing in fighting bag bans in other places.
The ACC is is currently paying lobbyists in California to oppose a bag ban that passed the state's Assembly last week. The state senate will vote on it this year and the governor has said he will approve the bill, if it passes. But Chrstman won't say how much money the group is spending in California. He says, "We will file paperwork in the state when it is appropriate," he says.