Long viewed with disdain by environmentalists, plastic bags could be banned under bills that will be considered during Florida's 2016 legislative session.
The bills would allow small communities in coastal areas to enact temporary plastic bag bans as part of a 2.5 year pilot program. While the details of the bans would be up to the communities themselves, advocates say the most common source of plastic bags — grocery stores — would likely be ordered to provide customers with recycled paper or biodegradable bags instead.
"They last a really long time — they don't break down easily — and at the same time, they cause real problems for wildlife," Julie Wraithmell, an environmentalist with Audubon Florida, said of plastic bags. "Some things, like turtles, will mistake them for food and consume them, other species become entangled in them, so they last for a long, long time and have this ripple effect."
The legislation is modeled on a California policy that allows cities and counties to enact plastic bag bans. So far, more than 100 have done so, with a 2012 study showing that 89 percent fewer plastic bags are being found in San Jose's storm drains. California's legislature recently passed a statewide plastic bag ban, but it is on hold pending the outcome of a 2016 ballot proposition campaign seeking to overturn the ban.
Critics, including the plastic industry, are assailing plastic bag bans as job-killing policies that do little to improve the environment.