SEATTLE - Seattle voters' rejection of a 20-cent fee on plastic and paper bags represents a sound defeat for other efforts in U.S. cities to limit the use of the throwaway bags, plastics industry officials said Wednesday.
A referendum on an ordinance to charge the bag fee at grocery, drug and convenience stores was easily defeated in Tuesday's primary in this liberal city - whose voters are known for taxing themselves to pay for parks, libraries, affordable housing and other causes.
"If they can't do it there, they can't do anywhere," said Stephen Joseph, a San Francisco attorney with SavethePlasticBag.com, who has challenged several plastic bag bans in California.
The ordinance approved by city leaders was to start in January, but the plastics industry bankrolled a referendum to put the question to voters.
The Progressive Bag Affiliates, an arm of the American Chemistry Council, spent $1.4 million to overturn the ordinance, the largest contribution to a local ballot measure in recent history. Supporters raised about $93,000.
Heather Trim, a spokeswoman for the Seattle Green Bag campaign, said other cities will surely look to Seattle's outcome for cues on how to proceed.
"They're going to think twice because they know that the ACC is willing to spend as much as needed to defeat it," said Trim, toxics program manager for People for Puget Sound.
But communities and citizens will also become better aware of the industry's influence and arm themselves appropriately, she said.
Supporters argued the fee would encourage more reusable bags, cut down on pollution and waste, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The ubiquitous thin, cheap plastic bags have been blamed for littering streets, polluting oceans and harming marine life. The city's ordinance targeted both paper and plastic sacks after city officials determined that paper bags were worse for the environment.
Adam Parmer, a spokesman for the Coalition to Stop the Seattle Bag Tax, said Seattle voters rejected the bag fee because it was unnecessary, costly and the wrong approach to changing behavior.
"In the middle of a recession, a tax to change people's behavior isn't the right approach. That's the message that was clearly sent," Parmer said.