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Originally published Wednesday, May 14, 2008 at 12:00 AM


Bruce Ramsey / Times editorial columnist

Being green is in the bag when it's shoved down our throats

In 2006, Seattle recycled 47. 5 percent of its garbage, a figure comparatively high. For 2012, the city's target is 60 percent, and next...

In 2006, Seattle recycled 47.5 percent of its garbage, a figure comparatively high. For 2012, the city's target is 60 percent, and next is 70 percent. No American city has reached such a figure, which requires more than subsidy. It requires compulsion — which Seattle government seems eager to supply. Green is good. More than that, it is imperative, and we all have to go along with it.

There is also a kind of rivalry among social engineers. In San Francisco, Mayor Gavin Newsom is looking at his recycling figures and proposing to mandate the recycling of cans, bottles and paper. Seattle has already done that, and is ahead of San Francisco there. San Francisco has banned disposable plastic bags. Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels and City Council President Richard Conlin propose to do San Francisco one better and impose a punitive 20-cent tax on plastic and paper bags.

The left loves it: We tax shopping bags! Not all bags, though. Not bags from Macy's, Barnes & Noble or True Value Hardware. Not the bags that keep your Seattle Times dry. (Thank you, thank you ... ) The tax would apply to food markets and convenience stores.

To all this greenery I offer a pruning thought. By weight, disposable bags of all types account for one-half of 1 percent of Seattle's garbage. It is not a lot, and the tax would eliminate only part of the one-half of 1 percent.

Disposable bags are useful. People use them once in getting their stuff home, and again for garbage and other things. Paper bags are recyclable, and so are the plastic ones. Take one plastic bag, stuff it with the others, tie it into a ball and chuck it into the bin. Of Seattle's plastic bags, 13 percent are recycled in this way, and more could be.

What is the matter with disposable bags?

With plastic, it is their future. Plastic doesn't rot. The obvious answer is to produce a bag that does, and ban the ones that don't.

There is, of course, always the paper bag, which rots if wet. The problem with paper bags, Seattle says, is their past: Papermaking pollutes the air. The pollution happens in places such as Longview and Tacoma, not in Seattle, but Seattle wants to be sensitive about it.

So Seattle says: "I am greener than Longview and Tacoma and smarter than San Francisco. I will tax both kinds of disposable bag, pocket the money and make my citizens use a cloth bag."

I don't want to use a cloth bag. I don't want to carry the bag to the store, and I don't want to limit my shopping to the capacity of my bag.

What if I want to buy more? I can pay the 20 cents, but it is a punishment tax, a city-wagging-its-finger-at-me tax: bad, bad, bad.

I don't want the disapproval and I don't want the people in Shoreline, Edmonds, Redmond, Kirkland, Bellevue, Renton, Kent and Burien laughing at me for being a sap for the greener-than-thou progressives in Seattle. And I don't want the people who did this to have my 20 cents.

The bag tax is one of several proposals and plans. Another plan is to let people put beef bones, apple cores, banana peels and other leftovers into the yard-waste can. This is "recycling" only in an inexact sense.

When you recycle wastepaper, you get new paper; when you recycle waste glass, you get new glass. But when you "recycle" waste food you don't get new food. You get dirt. It is nice dirt, and you can bag it and sell it at Home Depot, but even high-class dirt cannot pay for the extra cost of the men and trucks to go all over the city to empty the cans twice as many times per month.

My apple cores and banana peels are not counted, because they never enter the "municipal waste stream." I feed them to the worms. Next year, if I put them in the can, they will be counted and added to Seattle's grand goal of 70 percent. Thus, we save the Earth.

Bruce Ramsey's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. His e-mail address is; for a podcast Q&A with the author, go to

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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