Crosscut: Plastic Bag Backers May Bypass Seattle to Seek Legislature's Help

Source:  Matt Fikse, Crosscut, November 29, 2011. The chemical industry people who beat Seattle’s last attempt to limit waste look ready to go straight to the state. City Council, meanwhile, seems united on a ban.

As the Seattle City Council moves to follow Bellingham’s lead and ban single-use plastic bags, the American Chemistry Council affiliates that defeated Seattle’s 2009 plastic bag fee are organizing to defeat or fend off municipal bans at the state level in the upcoming legislative session.

Seattle City Councilmember Mike O’Brien is the primary sponsor of Seattle’s proposed ban and was joined by a council majority at the Seattle Aquarium Nov. 21 to launch the proposed new law, which also includes a mandate to charge a 5-cent fee for paper bags. With at least seven supporters on the Council and the support of Mayor Mike McGinn, the ban is expected to pass without difficulty in the coming weeks.

The draft legislation had its first hearing for public comment last week. All of the public comments were in support of the ban. During that meeting of the Utilities and Neighborhoods committee, which O’Brien chairs, Bellingham City Councilmember Seth Fleetwood noted that Bellingham’s bag ban grew out of the larger “Bag It” movement that works to mobilize municipalities to stop the use of plastic bags.

For its part, the bag industry, which defeated an earlier measure requiring a 20-cent charge for disposable plastic and paper bags, appears to be punting on the matter at the city level while preparing to take it on aggressively at the state level. On Nov. 21, Seattle council members received a letter from Mark Daniels, an executive at South Carolina-based Hilex Poly Co., a manufacturer of plastic bags, opposing the ban but conceding on Seattle’s ban, saying, “we expect the proposed ban to unfortunately be approved.”

But Daniels’ and Hilex Poly’s role in the bag debate doesn’t stop there. Not mentioned in his letter is the fact that Daniels is also the chairman of The Progressive Bag Affiliates, which is “an entity within the American Chemistry Council that is dedicated to promoting the recycling of plastic bags and to advocating on behalf of plastic bags,” according to Jennifer Killinger of the Chemistry Council. The members of the affiliate group include Advance Polybag, Inc., The Dow Chemical Company, ExxonMobil Corporation, Superbag Corporation, Total Petrochemicals USA, Inc., and others.

The bag industry group is preparing to take the issue to the state level in the upcoming legislative session. According to Daniels, “We believe it would be better if there were a state solution for Washington, and we would rather see all stakeholders focus resources on fighting litter and increasing recycling in reasonable ways.”

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