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Date of Issue: December 02, 2009

Island committee seeks action on retail bags

“Paper or plastic?” The answer may become “neither,” and the question eventually may not get asked.

Florida may institute a tax on single-use bags, and eventually ban retailers from distributing them.

Such an action would satisfy some members of Bradenton Beach’s ScenicWAVES committee.

Many involved with ScenicWAVES have long advocated reducing reliance on plastic shopping bags.

And city project/program manager Lisa Marie Phillips, who works with the ScenicWAVES volunteer committee, personally has advocated limits on the bags.

In 2008, the Florida Legislature passed and Gov. Charlie Crist signed into law the Energy, Climate Change, and Economic Security Act, which requires the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to analyze “the need for new or different regulation of auxiliary containers, wrappings, or disposable plastic bags used by consumers to carry products from retail establishments.”

The law requires the DEP to submit its report by Feb. 1, 2010.

A spokeswoman with the agency said the DEP is collecting data on the amount of retail bags generated, recycled and disposed of in the state, the role retail bags play in Florida’s litter, the effect the bags have on wildlife and the environment and the retailers’ positions.

The DEP also is analyzing other policies regarding single-use bags — bans, fees, limits and retailer self-regulation.

Earlier this year, the DEP released a draft report, which quickly was withdrawn, that recommended the Legislature prohibit retailers from providing single-use paper and plastic bags as of July 1, 2015.

The withdrawn draft also contained a proposed schedule of fees for single-use bags — 5 cents per bag in 2011, 25 cents per bag in 2014.

“While the preliminary draft has been withdrawn and should not be considered the agency’s recommendation, we are in the process of seeking additional input, guidance and recommendations for the Retail Bags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,” said DEP spokeswoman Amy Graham.

Until the Legislature adopts DEP recommendations on the issue, the law states that “no local government, local governmental agency or state government agency may enact any rule, regulation, or ordinance regarding use, disposition, sale, prohibition, restriction, or tax of such auxiliary containers, wrappings, or disposable plastic bags.”

ScenicWAVES members said the state law interferes with local governments’ home-rule authority, and this month the group is preparing to ask the city commission to recommend lawmakers free municipalities to make local policies on single-use retail bags.

“Look, honor home rule,” Lisa Marie Phillips said, summing up the committee’s position on the state law. “Let us decide.”

The local environmental group ManaSota-88, which has called for Manatee and Sarasota counties to ban plastic bags from county landfills, has also said the statute is bad public policy.

Limits on the distribution of single-use plastic bags exist in other countries and in a number of U.S. cities.

At the national level, a measure was introduced in Congress earlier this year to attach a 5-cent tax on single-use bags from grocery stores and other retail outlets, although the bill is not expected to pass this year.

“Certainly the United States, the state of Florida, we are powerhouses, we can do this,” Phillips said. “We can not only catch up, but lead.”

But prohibitions do not have the support of many retailers in the state, including the largest on the Island — Public Super Markets, which operates a store in Holmes Beach.

“Publix would be opposed to a ban on plastic bags,” said spokesperson Shannon Patten. “We want our customers to have choices. We offer alternatives to plastic bags and many of our customers are currently using reusable bags.”

Patten added that Publix also collects plastic bags. Last year, she said, the company recycled 6,700 tons of plastic.

“We also have many initiatives taking place to reduce the use of plastic bags,” Patten said. “We have improved training for our front service clerks, implemented a communications campaign to encourage the use of reusable bags and we continue to distribute free reusable bags through various partnerships within our community. So far, these initiatives have helped us to reduce our use of plastic bags by over 200 million per year.”