Posted on behalf of the Florida Chapter Sierra Club. Sent to
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I am a member of the Sierra Club's Waste Management Reduction Committee for the Sierra Club of Florida.

I have been chosen to submit comments for our group on Plastic Bag Reduction. Please accept these comments and place me on your list of stake holders.

Drew Martin
Sierra Club, Waste Management Reduction Committee, Sierra Club

Recommendations to DEP on Plastic Bags
Plastic shopping bags have a significant negative environmental impact. They also require over 12 million barrels of oil to manufacture. These bags serve only to carry items from the site of purchase to home. Less than 2 percent of plastic bags are recycled. Petroleum based bags are contributing to global climate change, our dependence on foreign oil and competing with other uses of petroleum thus pushing the cost of oil up.

The long term goal of our state should be to change the habits of individuals so that they provide their own mechanism to transport items from the stores or pharmacies. If we reduce petroleum bags, we reduce litter. Plastic bags kill over 100,000 marine animals a year, they create a nuisance by being both unsightly and creating a potential biohazard when they are thrown as litter with food or animal waste in them. Anywhere a store is located we find bags all over the ground. Many individuals purchase one item take a bag and throw the bag on the ground after they leave the store.

We believe that individuals can learn not to need plastic bags. An article written by Avis Thomas-Lester titled “Ikea Puts a Price on Throwaway Plastic” in the Washington Post dated Friday, March 16, 2007 provides insight to how plastic bags are handled overseas. In Europe people pay up to a dollar a plastic bag to discourage people taking plastic bags.
"In Europe, you always bring your bags," said Clocker as she shopped at Ikea in College Park yesterday. "Americans don't because they are not as environmentally aware, because of the size of this country. In Europe, people live closer together and in smaller places. Much more consideration is given to how you impact your neighbor, on the inside
of your home and on the outside."

We need to change how we do things in the United States. It is important that we provide incentives for customers to stop needing disposable plastic bags. We recommend that the stores be required to have goals to reduce the number of petroleum plastic bags given out to customers. We suggest that the stores provide alternatives that are not petroleum based disposable bags and/or offer replacement products that do not have the extensive long term life of a petroleum plastic bags and are biodegradable so that they that will self destruct over time. Petroleum plastic bags do not bio de grade, instead they break up into smaller and smaller pieces. This leaves them in the environment to be ingested by animals. Plastic bags in land fills never degrade, but may have a life of up to 10,000 years. At the same time we generate world wide over a billion bags a year. Often these bags end up in the ocean where marine animals ingest them or become entangled in them and die.

We can not permit this process of creating all this waste simply because we need a plastic bag for twenty minutes to take our groceries home. Many stores no longer offer plastic bags so consumers can adjust to having no bags. Consumers can provide their own bags or they can use boxes to transfer groceries or other items.

We recommend a number of strategies. One possibility is to permit stores to offer bags that are not petroleum based. These bags could be made of 100 percent post consumer paper or made of vegetable matter so that once in the environment they would completely biodegrade. This is preferable to petroleum based bags. Petroleum based bags use of 100 million barrels of oil to produce. Recycling of petroleum plastic bags is not economically efficient. It cost over $4,000 to process a ton of plastic bags and recycle them under current technologies and to resell them nets only $32. Without improved technology there is little incentive for recycling unless the stores conducting the program are willing to pay the recycling costs and guarantee the costs are covered and then repurchase the end product. For this reason recycling of petroleum based bags is not the ideal solution and does not reduce litter. Only a bag deposit would reduce the amount of litter and guarantee bags were returned for recycling.

An alternative to petroleum based bags are bags made of compostable, vegetable matter. Bags made of vegetable matter are completely biodegradable. The cost is slightly higher, but they do not use any oil and they do not last 10,000 years in the waste dump. Also, if they end up in the oceans they can be designed to quickly biodegrade so that they are much less of a risk to marine animals.

Another alternative approach is to charge a fee on all bags given to customers. In Ireland this approach has resulted in a 90 percent reduction in bags. This requires a large enough charge to cause people to forgo bags. This could start low and increase over time. For instance it could start at a nickel and then gradually increase to a dollar. Putting a charge on bags would discourage the use of bags. Customers would be encouraged to replace disposable bags with permanent bags that could be re-used.

It is important to understand that petroleum based bags are both a litter eye sore, are dangerous in the environment and are a bio hazard. They are ingested by wild animals and are passed through the food chain. The ultimate goal needs to be to replace petroleum matter bags and change the concept of free bags being given out.