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DEP wants ban plastic bags at Florida stores

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"DEP wants ban plastic bags at Florida stores

Report on rules for retail use to be presented Feb. 1

kevin lollar klollar@news-press.com

Floridians might soon be facing a statewide bag ban.

On Oct. 13, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection released a draft report recommending that the state Legislature prohibit retail establishments from providing single-use paper and plastic bags.

That report and its recommendations have been withdrawn, but DEP is still looking at some sort of rules for retail bags and will present a final report to the Legislature by Feb. 1.

“While the preliminary draft has been withdrawn and should not be considered the agency’s recommendation, we are in the process of seeking additional input, guidance and recommendations for the Retail Bags Report from the public and stakeholder groups,” DEP spokeswoman Amy Graham wrote in an e-mail.

A public meeting on possible bag regulations will be held Nov. 19 in Tallahassee.

Although no state has banned retail bags, cities and towns throughout the United States have some form of bag regulation.

In Alaska, 30 villages and communities have banned plastic bags since 1998.

On July 1, 2015, retail stores would not be able to provide single-use bags, with a few exceptions including newspaper delivery bags, and bags for leftovers from restaurants.

“Of course, it’s a great idea,” said Rudy Bush, executive director of Keep Lee County Beautiful. “From an aesthetic standpoint, it would make our roadways more beautiful. And it would save wildlife.”

A big concern about plastic bags is that land and sea animals ingest or become entangled in them.

“I think it would be very advantageous for the environment to ban plastic bags,” said Eve Haverfield, founder of Turtle Time Inc., whose volunteers monitor sea turtle nests from Fort Myers Beach to the Collier County line. “In the marine environment, there’s nothing to stop the wind from picking up a bag and blowing it into the water.

“Sea turtles are especially impacted because they mistake plastic bags for food. Banning plastic bags would be a boon to sea turtles and other marine life.”

Another issue is pollution from chemical leaching: Plastic bags are made from natural gas or petroleum and other chemicals. As the bags break down, these pollutants are released into the environment.

Many consumers already use reusable bags, which are sold or given away at many stores and by various organizations.

“We’ve handed out 9,000 of those bags,” Busch said. “They just make sense: They’re easier to carry, and they don’t tear up.”

Since 2007, Publix has sold 7.5 million reusable bags and given away thousands, spokeswoman Shannon Patten said.

But the Lakeland-based company, which has more than 700 stores in Florida, opposes a ban on bags.

“We want our customers to have a choice, and they do have a choice,” Patten said. “We do have a lot of initiatives to reduce the use of plastic bags. We’ve added training for our baggers to put more items per bag. We have bag reduction goals at all stores. We have campaigns to encourage the use of reusable bags. With all those initiatives, we’ve reduced use of plastic bags by 200 million a year.”

Coming out of Publix on McGregor Boulevard on Monday with groceries in plastic bags, Pat Lemna, 57, of Fort Myers, had mixed emotions about possible bag regulation.

“It’s good for the environment,” he said. “But people would have to bring their own bags. To have to do that would be an inconvenience.”

Skip Wieczorek, 56, of Fort Myers, said the state would probably ban single-use bags eventually.

“It’s been going on quite a while in different states,” he said. “I shop at Publix and other stores and see the same thing: More and more people buying cloth bags. Save a tree: Buy a bag.”

One of the the recommendations in DEP’s withdrawn report was a schedule that included escalating fees for people who insist on using paper or plastic during a four-year phase-in period, beginning July 1, 2011.

The first year, the fee would have been 5 cents per bag; by 2014, it would have been 25 cents.

“The only way to reach the lazy consumer is to put a price tag on it,” Busch said. “Then it will happen.” "
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DEP wants ban plastic bags at Florida stores

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