Paper or plastic? I'll take BYOB

On a recent morning when I was lucky enough to walk the beach, I saw the tide had gone out, way out, leaving behind what looked like a scattering of children's toys across the sand.

I stepped over beached horseshoe crabs and sea urchins caught by surprise, fat sponges and giant shells impaled in the sand. In the less natural category, I found a plastic Coke bottle so encrusted it had clearly spent the better part of its life in the sea, a pair of Italian sunglasses with lenses thick with barnacles, shards of beer cans, and plastic — lots of plastic.

I saw plastic beach toys, bits of unrecognizable plastic, and all around, those thin plastic grocery bags, lumpy and sodden in the sand.

I do not like those bags, the litter, the waste.

And sometimes I walk out of Publix with two on each arm.

In this country we use billions of them a year, bags that can kill marine life and clog stormwater pipes, not to mention littering land and sea. Once I drove through Texas and counted more blown-around bags than trees. In South Africa, I've read, they used to joke that discarded plastic bags were the national flower.

We have a lot of dubious distinctions around here, chads and giant pythons and such, but here's one we could wear like a badge:

Florida, the state that banned throwaway shopping bags.

Our Department of Environmental Protection is preparing a report on retail bags that's due to the Legislature on Feb. 1. In the preliminary report in October — which has since been withdrawn to prepare a more comprehensive one — the DEP initially recommended something pretty bold: Phasing out those "single-use" bags statewide.

The plan was to include a public education campaign and escalating fees starting at 5 cents a bag, ending with a ban on retailers giving them out come 2015. This included single-use paper bags, too.

Meaning we would have to get used to BYOBag, like in China and San Francisco.

The DEP plans to issue a final report once "a full suite of recommendations has been incorporated." Whatever that proposal ends up looking like, it could be in front of the Legislature as early as next session. Wow.

The Florida Retail Federation, by the way, did not support the initial recommendation, seeing the fee as a tax (but only if you don't BYOB, right?) and preferring customer convenience.

But we can do it.

We've already started.

Sure, plastic bags are handy at checkout, a brainless and easy option. But those sturdier, use-again-and-again handle bags are selling too, getting trendy with fancy logos and showing up more and more in the hands of customers in line. Places like Ikea don't even offer one-use bags. You carry your stuff, BYOB or buy their inexpensive reusable tote, and I haven't heard much backlash on that.

Maybe like me, you usually remember to bring your reusables into the store with you and, okay, sometimes you don't. I'm working on it. But a state ban — not to mention an all-out public effort and a fee that would rise to 25 cents a bag over four years — would a heck of a motivator.

But here's an even better one: Less plastic in places it shouldn't be.

To weigh in, go to http://www.dep.state.fl.us/waste/retailbags/default.htm and click on "public forum."

Paper or plastic? I'll take BYOB 12/10/09 [Last modified: Friday, December 11, 2009 6:07am]

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