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Florida Retailers Resisting a Plastic Bag Ban

Representatives of retail stores and the packaging industry told state environmental officials this week they shouldn't ban disposable bags because voluntary efforts are increasing recycling and reducing the number of bags used.

Their remarks at a Florida Department of Environmental Protection hearing followed the posting of a draft report last month that recommended taxing and then banning paper and plastic bags by 2015. The report was removed from the DEP Web site two days later following a firestorm of criticism.

"It was a thorough, well-researched piece of work," Fred McCormack of the Florida Dry Cleaners Coalition told a DEP hearing on Thursday. But, he said, "we absolutely don't agree with any of the recommendations."

The Legislature in 2008 adopted a bill supported by the Florida Retail Federation that prohibited local governments from banning retail bags until lawmakers can adopt recommendations. DEP is required to issue a report by Feb. 1 of next year.

Environmentalists say plastic bags kill sea turtles that eat them and entangle birds and other wildlife while ruining landscape views. A Sierra Club representative said the group supports banning plastic bags and he questioned why DEP withdrew the report so quickly.

"It sounds like politics trumping science," said Dwight Adams of Gainesville. He is chairman of the Sierra Club's Florida Chapter's waste minimization committee.

DEP Secretary Michael Sole denied politics was involved in the decision to withdraw the report. He said he had not seen it before it was posted and that it should have included alternatives to banning disposable bags.

"I felt we needed to take a step back and look at other options rather than one solution," Sole said.

About 40 people on Thursday attended a DEP hearing on the topic, and opponents of a bag ban far outnumbered the supporters who spoke.

Representatives of the Florida Retail Federation, the American Chemistry Council, Wal-Mart and the American Paper Bag Council were among those who said that voluntary efforts are guiding the consumer trend toward reusable bags and recycling disposable bags.

Target has begun paying customers 5 cents for each reusable bag they bring into the store. CVS will begin issuing store-credits to customers for bags they reuse, said Samantha Hunter Padgett, of the Florida Retail Federation.

Wal-Mart, which has 273 stores in Florida, has set a goal of recycling or reducing the use of plastic bags by 33 percent at its stores worldwide, said Cindi Marsiglio, the company's senior manager for public affairs and government relations in Tallahassee. The company also is experimenting in three California stores with not offering disposable bags and instead selling reusable bags for 15 cents each.

"There are a lot of exciting things happening," she said. "We just need to let it catch up with what the right product and time and demand on the customer is."

But David Auth of Gainesville said people were fine without plastic bags for thousands of years and they're still not needed.

"People are irresponsible," he said. "The only way to make them responsible is to get rid of these plastic bags so they won't have them in the first place."

Osceola County Commissioner Brandon Arrington said plastic bags clog the county's stormwater drains, and he doesn't think educational programs will halt the problem. He said he would ask his county to take action if the Legislature doesn't act on recommendations.

"I think the state approach is much better for retailers as a whole," he said.

DEP won't post another draft report before the recommendations are sent to the Legislature because there isn't enough time, said Mary Jean Yon, director of the department's Division of Waste Management.

She said her staff also is working on the recommendations due Jan. 1 for increasing the state's recycling goal from 30 percent to 75 percent in 10 years.

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