Danny Westneat’s column in today’s Seattle Times discusses the plastic bag fee/tax proposal, on the ballot at Referendum 1. A lot of coverage to date has focused on the involvement of the petrochemical industry, which has spent something in the range of $1.3 million on opposing the ban.
Politics make strange bedfellows, and in this case our local Central Area Motivation Project (CAMP) also opposed Ref. 1 based on what they see as a possible harm to low-income consumers. Westneat spoke with their new executive director, Andrea Caupain.
“We wanted to get ahead of the issue and ask: How will this affect our clients, the low-income?” Caupain says. “We hadn’t seen anyone look at this in depth, only people making arguments to support their side.”
CAMP tried an experiment. Its food bank handed out hundreds of reusable canvas tote bags.
Patrons were told to use them when picking up food, and that the agency would stop providing paper or plastic bags due to the expense of the coming bag fee (this was back when the City Council first approved the fee).
For six months, staffers tracked what happened.
“It was not good,” she says.
CAMP staffers observed – not surprisingly – that few of their clients brought back the bags regularly. When asked why not, “usually the explanation had something to do with the struggles of being poor.”
If you are moving a lot, homeless or borderline homeless, or working long hours to make ends meet, keeping track of a bag is a low priority. I get that.
But I personally think it’s short-sited for CAMP to make the leap from “our clients did not bring our bags back” to opposing a measure for the environment. I’m disappointed that they took this position.
After all, evidence suggests that low- and moderate-income households have the most to lose from climate change and environmental degradation. Wealthier households can buffer themselves; wealthier neighborhoods can spend resources on clean-up (or secure resources with political power).
For a visual example, take a walk around the block in the CD. Odds are, you’ll see some litter. I regularly find plastic bags (“urban tumbleweeds”) resting in my yard and street. When I visit friends in Viewridge or Greenlake, I don’t see trash on their streets.
Instead of opposing the measure, think about how a bag ban could be used to enhance the well-being of low-income communities. A local non-partisan think-tank, the Washington Budget & Policy Center (disclosure: I’m on their community advisory board), has been examining equity issues in climate change. They conclude, “To protect the interest of people with lower- and moderate-incomes, [revenue] should be invested … for the public good, particularly to off-set the cost to people with lower- and moderate-incomes.”
For instance, bag ban revenue could be used to subtract 2% from the grocery bill of anyone buying groceries using their card from the Basic Food Program. If that person had to buy a bag, the $.20 for every $10 would more or less cover the cost of the bag. Someone who brings a reusable bag or is able to carry items home without a bag would get cheaper groceries and be better off.
CAMP, I urge you to rethink this position. CD residents, I urge you to vote for Ref. 1.
And that’s my two – or twenty – cents.