Understanding Metropolitan Market’s Position

We got our hot little hands on a copy of a statement from the Metropolitan Market high-end grocery chain on the bag tax. Like any customer-oriented business, it’s critical that they obfuscate their position in wishywashy language designed to appeal to both sides, but which in fact appeal to nobody. But by reading between the lines, we can dispose of the mumbo-jumbo and get right to the heart of what they’re actually saying.

If you love plastic bags as much as we do, I think you’ll be pleased. Read on for the text of their response, and an analysis.

Metropolitan Market Supports a better path to Green

Metropolitan Market and the City of Seattle share mutual goals: To decrease disposable bag use and to be good stewards of the earth. However, a disposable bag tax may not be the answer. Rather than mandate a disposable bag tax, we believe what will greatly reduce disposable bag use is community education about the environmental value of reusable bags, and customer rewards for reusing bags.

[theplasticman notes: Like any good corporate citizen, Metro Markets believes in the iron law of supply & demand — except when it comes to market-based regulation of customer behavior. At that point it’s clear: public service announcements and perhaps raffles are the way to make a difference. That’s why they never reduce prices when they want to increase sales — because cost is not a satisfactory means of affecting consumer behavior. It’s economics 101.]

Before mandating a 20-cent-per-disposable-bag fee, we believe customers should have a choice in how they will be stewards of their earth. We believe Seattle citizens should put this important public policy to a vote, the outcome of which we will fully support.

[theplasticman adds: One of our few disappointment is right in that bit above: they are not calling for civil disobedience as a response to the bag tax, but instead state they will support the law as it is written. What a pathetic sense of corporate imagination. Others see a bad law and say they will obey it. I see a bad law and dream of crumpling it up, dropping it in a clean, sanitary, and convenient plastic bag, and tossing it into a landfill, or perhaps leaving it on the beach.]

·   We all care about our earth, including making strides in more bag reuse; we maintain the best way to get there is through public and private community education as a tax alternative.

[theplasticman adds: I hereby cast my vote in support of community education in place of any and every tax and regulation!]

·   We propose forming a team of retailers and city officials to work together to reduce disposable bag use; we recommend putting a timeline in place for a 2010 review of reduction and reuse benchmarks.

[theplasticman adds: Remember: you can count it as “re-using” a bag if at some point after taking it home from the store, you put something dirty in it and then throw it away. That’s recycling, no?]

·   All retailers who use disposable bags should be included in a city-wide effort to reduce and re-use, reaching beyond only grocery or food retailers. 

[theplasticman adds: Yes! Starting with the industry that consumes 70% of the bags is patently unfair. If we can make it seem like the problem with the law is that it’s not *ambitious* enough, then we can stop the city from doing anything. Genius!]

·   We propose all grocery and food retailers adopt the use of on-premise recycling stations.

[theplasticman adds: I have a dream: a bag of bags in every store!]

·   We propose broader consumer awareness with more in-store signs and education on bag reuse.

[theplasticman adds: No, my dream is grander: a bag of bags with a big sign! Maybe a big arrow even!]

·   Bag reuse remains a priority for Metropolitan Market. Our customers already use 20 percent less bags since we introduced our reusable (and 100 percent recyclable) bag, the ReBag, in late 2007. And this trend is steadily increasing. We believe we will see even greater levels of bag use reduction via customer education and rewards.

[theplasticman adds: You can tell the ReBag is cutting edge because there’s a capital letter in the middle of the word. Very dot-com-ish. Who can say that’s not progressive. And more with the rewards! I would like to see this principal applied to the criminal justice system: instead of paying high taxes for police investigators, let’s just pump up the CrimeStoppers tip line.]

·   We currently reward customers by donating $.05 for each reused bag they bring at checkout to benefit Puget Sound Keeper Alliance, which patrols and promotes clean waterways of Puget Sound.

[theplasticman adds:I presume that means this green group will be opposing the bag tax like a good purchased ally ought to?]

·   A bag tax may have unintended effects that continue disposable bag use. People who now reuse their grocery bags for home garbage or a neighborhood clean-up, for example, would ironically be forced to purchase boxes of plastic garbage bags.

[theplasticman adds: They got that right! How ironic would it be if people had to start paying for something that causes social costs, and therefore had an incentive to reduce their use of said product? Effective city legislation, that’d be ironic for sure. But alas my silly silly greens, that’s just not how the economy works: raising costs doesn’t reduce consumption like there’s some kind of invisible hand flailing around rebalancing supply-and-demand curves.]

·   We agree wholeheartedly that bag reuse helps control costs for consumers, grocers, and the city’s recycling and disposal fees. We hold ourselves accountable as community members and stewards of the earth.

[theplasticman adds: “but we’ll be damned if anyone else is gonna hold us accountable,” they forgot to add.]

·   We will fully cooperate with the City of Seattle in collecting its fee as mandated, and if put to a vote, we will respect the collective decision of our citizens.

[theplasticman adds: again, how did they miss the chance to call for civil disobedience. So sad.]

All and all, a solid performance from the most Seattle-style of grocers. It suggests two keys to our communications effort against this wrongheaded bag tax:

1. Repeatedly declare how much you love the earth and how much you’d like to see plastic bag use reduced.

2. Embrace consumer choice, as much as possible conflating the “freedom” to throw stuff away with more traditional freedoms like free speech, free assembly, etc.

3. Replace “supply and demand” with “reward and reduce”.

So, embracing this strategy, I say:

1. More than anybody, we in the plastic bag industry would like to see plastic bag use reduced. But our customers demand bags, so we produce them — by the millions and millions and millions and millions. What else would you have us do — ignore the voices of Americans crying to us for a cheap, clean, sanitary, single-use way to schlep groceries?

2. This is America, which means everyone should have the freedom to use whatever bag they choose. We should reward good stewardship, certainly — not punish people making the choice that’s right for them.

3. We will hold regular raffles. You get one chance to win for every used plastic bag you send us. If exchanging an old disposable bag for a chance to win prizes ain’t recycling, I don’t know what is!


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by hishairiness on August 28, 2008 at 12:20 am

    I am an new Metropolitan Market shopper – I recently discovered the West Seattle store and love it, but I am really disturbed by their response to the plastic bag persons enquiry. It sounds like they are not willing to take a stance and instead hide behind “what the voters think”. What a way to lead! What a way to make decisions – whatever they tell me to do, I will. I prefer spending my money in places where the company is willing to be honest about their politics – and perhaps once they are honest I will recognize that I don’t agree. But it seems that the Market feels that they have something to hide. I ask them to make an honest statement of their stance and then to let their shoppers decide if we can swallow that or not.


  2. Posted by Justin on September 1, 2008 at 9:56 pm

    Thank you, Plasticman! A voice of clarity and sanity in all the swirling (ala a plastic bag in the breeze) madness!


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