Plastic bag tax backers not giving up

By October 6, 2011Local Government
A Juneau-based nonprofit that aims to curb the use of plastic shopping bags in the Capital City won’t be deterred by voters’ rejection this week of a citizen’s initiative to tax those bags at certain retailers.

The group’s director says the measure raised awareness of the pollution and environmental damage caused by plastic bags, and members will look for ways to keep the conversation going.

Turning the Tides Director Dixie Belcher wasn’t surprised that voters rejected the group’s plastic bag tax initiative by more than two to one.

“Plastic bags are either banned or taxed in two-thirds of the world, but that has never come from a vote,” Belcher says. “It has always come from a city council, or from a legislature, or from the country. When it goes out to a vote, it’s always voted down.”

Opposition came from people who disagreed with the structure of the tax, levied only on large stores like Fred Meyer, WalMart and Safeway with average annual gross sales of 15-million dollars or more over the last five years. Most people thought the tax would be passed on to consumers.

“There’s a lot of people that just plain don’t want a tax,” says Belcher. “And I think that they didn’t like that it would just apply to four stores – which really wasn’t our idea – that came from the business community.”

Belcher says just having the measure on the ballot raised awareness of the pollution and environmental harm caused by plastic bags, especially on oceans. Turning the Tides regularly sponsors movies and speakers on the issue, and gives away free reusable bags at events around town. Belcher hopes they can build on the momentum of the campaign.

“I think we’re going to be talking to teachers, to school teachers, with the possibility that some children could make bags in the schools that they could take home and their families would use,” she says. “We’re just going to continue to do that sort of thing and also try to reach people that we haven’t reached.”

That includes public officials and the business community.

“There are definitely people in the business community who are 100 percent behind it, and there are definitely public officials who are interested, and I think we have more now,” says Belcher.

Randy Wanamaker, who was re-elected to the assembly on Tuesday after a year-long absence, says he met a lot of people during the campaign who opposed the bag tax. But he says the same people were concerned about the city’s ever expanding landfill.

“This is something that helped people talk about solid waste in the broad, strategic sense,” Wanamaker says.

Belcher thinks some voters who opposed the tax would have supported a ban on plastic bags. While Turning the Tides probably won’t attempt another citizen’s initiative, she says it will continue to push for change on the grassroots level.

“It’s a huge problem, and I think plastic bags’ days are numbered,” she says.

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