Florida City Poised to Be First in State to Ban Plastic Bags
Every movement has to start somewhere. The movement to ban single-use carryout plastic bags in Florida just started in earnest in the City of Coral Gables.
The Coral Gables city commission preliminarily approved an ordinance on March 14, 2017 that will prohibit retailers from using plastic bags in stores and at city special events. We’re talking here about those bags we all get at the local grocery or department store.
The ordinance exempts certain plastic bags:
- Bags from pharmacies and veterinarians that hold prescription medications
- Dry cleaning bags
- Yard waste bags
- Garbage bags
- Newspaper bags
- Plastic bags without handles
- Plastic bags brought to a store by a customer for his or her own use
A second vote on March 28 is expected to make the proposed change a final, enforceable city ordinance.
There’s a six-month grace period before fines come into play. Once those fines begin, it will cost $50 for a first violation and up to $500 for a third within a year.
“We have to be more conscious of the environment,” City Commissioner Vince Lago, sponsor of the proposed ban, told The Miami Herald. “I feel that we can co-exist and I think the business community can adapt.”
Plastic Bags Are Bad for Everything – Except Convenience
Unless you’re one of those eco-conscious people who doggedly remembers to bring along reusable bags to the store, you probably end up with a plastic bag or two several days out of a week.
Sometimes you might feel like you’ve got so many bags you don’t know what to do with them, so you just throw them away. Now multiply that decision by millions of consumers, and you begin to realize the problem we’re facing. Worldwide, it’s estimated we use between 500 billion and a trillion plastic bags every year.
That’s an incredible amount of plastic. What’s worse, we use each one for mere minutes between store and home. Then they become garbage or they line a trash can for a while, carry our lunch to work, scoop some puppy poop, or keep wet clothes separated from dry ones in a suitcase. In the end, though, a bag’s fate is always the same. Unless you recycle it, it’s garbage.
Plastic bags don’t degrade in the environment easily. They take hundreds of years to decompose. When they do, they release toxins into water and soil. Why are we allowing this situation to continue?
Following in the Footsteps of a Styrofoam Ban
Coral Gables approved a ban on the use of polystyrene, better known as Styrofoam, in February 2016. Because the Florida Legislature had passed a bill prohibiting municipalities from banning Styrofoam as of January 1, 2016, the Florida Retail Federation sued the City in July 2016 to try to nullify the ban.
The retailers lost. A Miami-Dade circuit court found the state prohibition on Styrofoam bans improperly targeted the City of Coral Gables and was, in addition, unconstitutional.
Following this recent court victory, Coral Gables decided to move decisively forward with its plastic bag ban. Meanwhile, the Florida Retail Federation reportedly intends to appeal the Styrofoam case to the Third District Court of Appeal.
Meanwhile, retailers remain unhappy about the bag ban. The ordinance’s sponsor feels strongly, however, that something must be done to abate the plastic bag problem. Of course, he’s right.
“I’m a Republican and this is not just a Democrat issue, this is above and beyond politics,” Lago told The Miami Herald. “There’s no reason why we should not be protecting our environment especially when we have aging infrastructure which suffers when plastic bags become clogged in the system.”
When sea creatures can’t tell the difference between a plastic bag and food, that’s a problem. When we find sea birds and marine life dead with plastic bags and plastic bits clogging their intestines, that’s a problem.
Plastic bags blow around our highways, getting caught in tree branches and wire fencing. They’re a perpetual part of the litter floating on the surface of the ocean. Sadly, 267 species of marine wildlife have been documented as becoming entangled or ingesting of marine debris that’s mostly made of plastic.
What’s the best way to solve that problem? Say it with me – until we get a truly biodegradable bag, just stop using plastic bags. In their current form, they are a convenience our environment can no longer afford. Switch to paper or better yet, bring your own reusable bags to the store.
Coral Gables isn’t the first municipality to take this step, it’s just the first in Florida. San Francisco began the movement to ban these bags in 2007. Since then, according to Scientific American, 132 other American cities and counties in 18 states have done likewise. Outright bans exist in China, India, the European Union and elsewhere.
Want an option other than a ban? Consider taxing plastic bag use. Ireland instituted a 20-cent tax per bag in 2002 with remarkable success, reducing their use by 95 percent. South Africa, Australia Taiwan and Bangladesh also tax these bags. They’ve got the right idea. They’re doing something about the problem. Are we?
If we’d encourage a simple change of habit, we’d accomplish so much for the land, the ocean and the animals.
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