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Date of Issue: September 30, 2009

Environmental group seeks plastic bag ban

During the 2008 Coastal Cleanup, plastic bags ranked No. 2 on a list of the top marine debris.
Islander Image: Ocean Conservancy

Environmental group seeks plastic bag ban.

A local environmental group is advocating that Manatee and Sarasota counties ban plastic grocery bags from landfills.

ManaSota-88 called for the counties to ban the bags from landfills by Feb. 10, 2010.

The date is significant because that’s also the date the Florida Department of Environmental Protection is scheduled to submit a review of the costs, positives and negatives associated with banning plastic bags.

In its call for a landfill ban, ManaSota-88 cited local, national and international concerns.

At the international level, the United Nations environmental chief has urged a ban on plastic bags.

“Single-use plastic bags, which choke marine life, should be banned or phased out rapidly everywhere. There is simply zero justification for manufacturing them anymore, anywhere,” said Achim Steiner, executive director of the UN Environment Program, which advises member states on environmental policies.

Steiner made his statement with the release of a UN report identifying plastic as the “most prevalent component of marine debris” and a hazard “because it persists so long in the ocean, degrading into tinier and tinier bits that can be consumed by the smallest marine life at the base of the food web.”

About .6 percent of plastic bags in the United States are recycled, meaning about 100 billion bags are thrown away — as litter or to be landfilled or burned, according to the Worldwatch Institute, an environmental think tank.

In the landfill, the bags take about 1,000 years to break down.

Outside the landfill, according to ManaSota-88, the bags make up about 80 percent of the litter on roads, parks and beaches and 90 percent of the litter in the ocean.

Statistics suggest that plastic bags will be one of the top items picked up in the annual Coastal Cleanup scheduled to take place on Anna Maria Island and elsewhere Oct. 3.

In the 2008 Coastal Cleanup, plastic bags made up 12 percent of the litter collected worldwide, with volunteers picking up more than 1.3 million bags.

The county commissions have not taken positions on ManaSota-88’s call.

Locally, at least one government employee has endorsed ManaSota-88’s effort.

“I’m all for it,” said Lisa Marie Phillips, the project/program manager for Bradenton Beach, where city officials and community volunteers have waged a campaign to decrease the use of plastic bags.

The city, working with citizen volunteers, sponsored an initiative to distribute cloth bags, as well as posted signs discouraging people from bringing plastic bags to the waterfront.

“This is something this city has been working on since 2004,” Phillips said.

And she praised work to reduce or eliminate the use of bags in other locales.

San Francisco, for example, has banned plastic bags, and Los Angeles will institute a ban in 2010 while Washington, D.C., plans to collect a bag tax.

Elsewhere, Ireland, Italy and Belgium placed a surcharge on plastic bags, China, which instituted a limit on producing ultra-thin bags in 2008, has saved China 1.6 million tons of petroleum, according to Worldwatch.

“There is a way to live without them,” Phillips said. “It’s about going back to the way we used to live — baskets, carts, boxes. “Plastic bags are petroleum-based. The water involved in the production and recycling of the bags is huge.”

Phillips said an annual summit involving local environmental organizations and agencies will take place Oct. 27 at the Palma Sola Botanical Gardens in Bradenton, and she plans to discuss ManaSota-88’s call.