Just Say No to Plastic Bags

Reusable grocery bags. Photo by Malcolm Denmark

By: Sharon Aron Baron

It’s so hard to resist those small plastic bags. Store clerks mindlessly fill them with one or two items, and they can’t help but double or triple bag them as they have become so flimsy. Take a look at people walking out of the grocery store; you will see nothing but a shopping cart full of 10-20 of these.

Plastic bags hold minimal groceries.

Did you know that 90 percent of the plastic bags in the US are not even recycled? Recycled bags can go on to make lumber, trashcan liners, or other plastic bags. Publix has plastic recycling containers in front where these can be deposited. However, the one thing people can do now is stopping the use of these bags. People need to get into the habit of using reusable grocery bags. These bags can hold so much more than plastic and can be re-used for many years.

There are times when I forgo getting any bag at a store. I tell store clerks to save the bag as I’ll carry the items out with me. Yesterday at Barnes and Noble, a clerk put a magazine and a small book inside a bag. I told him to save the bag as I would carry them out. I can’t imagine someone not being able to carry the books they buy out of a store. Putting purchases in plastic bags has become so automated for clerks, and customers must get proactive and say no to more plastic bags.

Using plastic bags to pick up messes left by their dog is not the best way to reuse these bags. Unfortunately, it takes over 1,000 years for that plastic bag to break down in the landfill. There are many biodegradable dog bags at pet stores now, and some types are even compostable. You can even get a container that attaches to your dog’s leash, so you’ll never leave home without one.

Many cities have banned plastic bags or have imposed a fee on them. Here is a list of cities banning or addressing the plastic bag issue as of 2011:

Cities that have banned plastic bags
San Francisco
Palo Alto
Fairfax – voluntary removal of bags
San Jose
Long beach
Calabasas Feb. 3, 2011

Places in U.S. considering ban
Maui Kauai
Brownsville TX
American Samoa
Arcata CA
Sunnyvale CA
Jersey City NJ
Wilton CT
Dubuque IA

Locations around the world with a plastic bag ban
Mexico City
Thompson City, Canada
Wood Buffalo, Alberta, Canada (All single-use bags)
Delhi, India
Mumbai, India
Karwar, India
Tirumala, India
Vasco, India
Rangoon, Burma
Bangladesh (bags have been banned since 2002)
Sydney’s Oyster Bay in Australia (along with twelve other towns in Australia)

Places around the world considering the ban

Places Discouraging plastic bag use

Washington DC (5 cent tax)
Madison, Wis. ( mandatory plastic bag recycling law)
Many European countries have a tax on the bag
China does not give out free bags

The largest opposition to the ban of plastic bags comes from the petroleum and plastics industries, and of course, consumers who don’t want to change their habits.

Florida could join the list of cities and countries with enough plastic bags filling up our landfills. There seemed to be some action taken by the Crist administration when they required the Department of Environmental Protection to perform an analysis and submit a report to the legislature regarding plastic bags. Until such time that the Legislature adopts the recommendations of DEP, no local or state government may enact any regulation or tax on the use of such retail bags. This is why no city or county in Florida can do what individual towns have done in California.

This does not prevent individual stores from banning plastic bags as Whole Foods did in April of 2008. Whole Foods customers have the choice of paper or reusable bags. When customers bring in their bags, Whole Foods will credit them $.05 for each one used. Same with Target. Although they have not banned plastic bags, they give customers with reusable bags the same credit, but pay attention, as many store clerks forget to credit customers for doing this.

According to Florida Environmental Public Information Officer Kristin Lock, “During the 2010 legislative session, the Florida legislature did not enact any legislation regarding the regulation of retail bags. The legislature also did not repeal section 403.7033, Florida Statutes, which prohibits any local government, local governmental agency, or state government agency from enacting any rule, regulation, or ordinance regarding use, disposition, sale, prohibition, restriction, or tax of such auxiliary containers, wrappings, or disposable plastic bags.”

Until our state enacts changes for plastic bags, it is up to corporations such as Walmart, Publix, and other major retailers to do their part to encourage reusable bags or ban plastic bags altogether. Until then, residents must do their part to make a difference in the amount of bags they will consume.

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