Take an economic recession, add a proposal for a new fee/tax, finish it off with a $1.4 million dollar negative ad campaign run by a group that has a lot to lose and what do you get? Voters in Seattle just overturned legislation that would have taxed both paper and plastic bags at a fee of $.20 apiece.

Why did the measure fail? I have watched these proposals come and go in New York City, Philadelphia and other cities and they all have one thing in common – a fee. In the Outer Banks they were simply eliminated; same for Westport, CT and Edmonds, WA. The approach was about reducing waste, saving the environment and encouraging people to make positive changes to contribute to the health of their communities.

The Seattle organizations had all the right intentions in mind with this proposal. In Ireland the legendary $.33 bag tax caused a 95% reduction in plastic bag use in a year – a phenomenal result by any account. BUT, and this is a big BUT, the Irish economy was strong at the time that they passed this law and they didn’t have a highly organized plastics council to fight against to win their approvals.

So what’s a strategy that seems to work? In the towns and cities where bags have been banned (plastic and paper or just plastic) the organizers have been environmentalists with facts, pictures and an invitation to the public to participate in the process. Austin’s program, which has been all about public education, has succeeded famously. And the Colorado ski towns have turned the bans into a contest for a $10,000 donation to a local school system!

In the carrot versus stick world of bag bans, the carrots appear to be in the lead.

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