Fallout from Seattle's killer plastic bag ban policy.

Quick background: Seattle last year instituted a ban on plastic bags and mandated a charge for paper bags, on the grounds that doing so would force consumers to use recyclable bags. This is all ostensibly for improving the quality of life in Seattle:


“I think we’ve gotten to a place where it’s really going to work for the environment, businesses and the community in general,” Councilman Mike O’Brien said at the time.

So, how did it work?

  • Environment: People keep stealing store’s hand-baskets – because they didn’t bring any bags – to bring their groceries home, then abandon the baskets. Yes, the last time I checked ‘increased littering’ counts as ‘negative impact on the environment.’ Or are hand baskets suddenly biodegradable? Do they magically disappear from the landfills?
  • Business: Well, the stores are upset about all of those not-actually-all-that-cheap baskets that they keep losing. They’re even more upset over the shoplifting, which has skyrocketed since the ban took place. Oddly enough, it’s easier to steal small items when you’re not only allowed, but required to bring multiple storage devices along with you*.
  • The community: …Well, one community is doing great; the E. coli community has never been more prominent in Seattle life and public health advisories. But, never fear: when asked about the minor detail that the new plastic bag ban has led to more bacterial outbreaks and deaths from food poisoning, the Seattle public health department responded by telling people to wash their bags**.

So, yeah, this is not exactly working out the way that people anticipated. And there’s one small remaining problem: which is to say, these are all problems that nobody is apparently planning to fix.  Again, from the article:

Seattle’s push for reusable bags – and shoplifters who have plagued several Lake City businesses – leave [store owners] in a predicament. Asking customers to check reusable bags at the counter would be burdensome to customers and staff, and prohibiting reusable bags and backpacks likely wouldn’t work well in Seattle, which other business owners said is known for grand environmental ideas that can hinder small business efforts.

…Which is, of course, the problem right there. And the worst part? People are dying of food poisoning as a result of a policy that isn’t even doing anything helpful. Who the heck wants to get a bacterial infection for the sake of a flawed recycling initiative?

Moe Lane (crosspost)

*So, basically: one subset of people are not bringing bags, and stealing baskets to get their groceries home. Another subset of people are bringing bags, and using them to shoplift. A third subset of people are bringing bags, not shoplifting with them, and spreading disease with them. This is a heck of a way to run a railroad.


**Yes, thank you, Seattle public health department, that’s very helpful advice. I especially loved the tone of your spokesman James Apa: after all, I’m sure that the Oregonian girl’s soccer team that got sick via a food bag norovirus in 2010 so totally had it coming to them. Or does the ‘Oregonian’ bit make that irrelevant, somehow? – I’m not really all that familiar with the finer points of radical Green theology.


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