Bills allowing plastic bag ban moving through legislature; Surfrider Foundation to lobby for passage

House and Senate bills under review
Posted at 5:42 PM, Mar 10, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-11 18:43:03-05

Visit any beach and you'll most likely see a familiar sight.

"If you just keep looking, you'll find more," said Theresa Hamilton, as she combs through the sand and grass looking for plastic bags at Riviera Beach.

Hamilton leads the local Surfrider Foundation chapter in Palm Beach County. She finds plastic bag litter during every single one of their cleanup events.

"When we do our cleanups, it's about 80 percent of what we find on our beaches," she said, recounting a recent clean up in which her group collected 25 pounds of trash in Boynton Beach. "We counted 30 plastic bags and that was just for two hours. We didn't even do the whole beach."

Texas and California found this to be such a problem that they banned plastic bags.

And now, help could be on the way for the Sunshine State. The Florida Legislature is looking at two bills allowing cities to start pilot programs to ban or regulate plastic bags. House Bill 93 and Senate Bill 162 are currently being reviewed by lawmakers.

"I believe this year is the year," said Hamilton. "Stay fast and keep going. Because nothing happens overnight."

Hamilton said for nearly 10 years, it's been an uphill battle for her group in getting the legislation passed. In 2008, Florida even put a ban on banning plastic bags. Hamilton said it is the only state to do so.

"It's a ban on the ban. If that makes any sense. It doesn't," she said.

But this year, Hamilton says the House and Senate bills are doing well in committee.

"In all honesty, the more these government leaders get involved in the cleanups, they're seeing for themselves," said Hamilton.

Palm Beach County Commissioners got involved and passed a resolution supporting the bills. Mayor Paula Burdick said such a ban can help taxpayers in the long run.

"When local governments have to go out and clean those storm drains, that impacts our budget. So if we want to keep our budgets in control, all of us have to take a responsibility," she said. "If we had a sudden severe storm and the drains weren't cleared out, we could have some very extensive flooding in the area."

The city of Coral Gables south of Miami is also looking at passing a similar resolution to support the bills to ban plastic bags.

Beachgoers we spoke to this week say it's a no brainer.

"Where I'm from, there's a town that has banned them altogether," said Cheryl Lomas, who was visiting Riviera Beach from Rhode Island. "I think it would be an awesome idea. It's not good for the environment."

"I think there are plenty of other options you can use other than plastic," said Becky Contrell on Riviera Beach. "It's just a mess to clean up. I think it's a good idea."

If the bills pass, it only applies to coastal cities. But it allows them to run pilot programs to ban or regulate plastic bags.

Hamilton says it's a start - her group is headed to Tallahassee next week to lobby.

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