Seattle plastic bag ban creates City of Clutchers

Over the past few weeks I have seen what looks to me like the remains of broken eggs in the parking lot of several Seattle supermarkets, as well as an overall increase in unpicked-up dog poop. It strikes me these are unintended consequences of an environmentally motivated local law that took effect on July 1 generally prohibiting stores from providing flimsy plastic grocery bags.

I was out of town on the East Coast meditating about the legacy of founding father Thomas Paine when the law kicked in. Upon my return a week later I noticed changes in the habits of my fellow Seattleites. Many had begun bringing to the stores their own resusable cloth bags–and in one instance I witnessed, a suitcase with wheels–to carry out their groceries. But a large number simply gathered up their purchases and waddled to their cars–with, it seems, various degrees of success.

So allow me to bestow another municipal nickname. As I see it, the Emerald City has become the City of Clutchers.

Successfully carrying an armload of stuff requires a careful calculation of bulk, weight and nature of load, as well as a well-grounded assessment of one’s own ability in this regard. This is hard enough for some professional truckers around Seattle. From my observations this is a learning curve many mere Seattle consumers are still climbing with their shopping habits. From the evidence I have seen, at a minimum a number are still learning how easy it is for those tiny cardboard tabs holding shut egg cartons to give way and open.

Bag-less people buying way too much stuff to carry out–like the weekly family food run–simply wheel the shopping cart out to the car and unload into the trunk. There’s nothing to stop someone on a minimal-goods run from doing the same thing, and the law allows stores to sell paper grocery bags for a nickel. But from what I have seen, there’s been a tendency for light purchasers to pick everything up and take a chance.

Sort of like that “I’m feeling lucky” Google button. Or even Nik Wallenda on that recent tightrope trip over Niagara Falls.

He made it. Some here haven’t.

Maybe there’s some kind of macho environmental thing at work, like real men and women don’t even use reusable bags. For all I know, the plastic-bag ban is reducing economic activity–people buy only what they can carry–and therefore governmental revenue in the form of sales tax. A less-green for more-green trade-off, I suppose.

But it’s the dog-poop thing that may be the surprising mickey here. Seattle is a dog-loving town with more canines than children. Unlike almost every other place I have lived before  becoming New To Seattle, open spaces–including the many soccer fields around town I referee on and inspect before hand–have been free of dog doo-doo, as owners carefully follow mandatory pick-up rules. (Goose poop is quite another matter.)

However, starting this month I have seen for the first time what I consider a significant upsurge in Rover calling cards everywhere. This includes the front yard of my house, which has been dog-less for a year. I can’t prove cause and effect, but I suspect the sudden absence of free pick-up material stuffed in a kitchen drawer after a grocery run is playing a meaningful role.

Of course, dog owners could simply buy and bring home boxes of small plastic bags at their local grocery store. If they don’t lose them in the parking lot on the way out.

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