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California bans plastic bags, Miami Beach bans styrofoam containers

As more and more plastic bags and styrofoam finds its way into our waterways and oceans, our wildlife is increasing being negatively impacted.
As more and more plastic bags and styrofoam finds its way into our waterways and oceans, our wildlife is increasing being negatively impacted.
Valerie J. Amor

Legislation supporting the environment

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California, long known for its progressive stance on the environment, took a major step forward in solidifying this position as the California State Senate finalized its approval of the legislation on Friday, August 29, 2014. The measure is now being moved forward to Gov. Jerry Brown awaiting his signature.

The Senate bill SB-270 Solid Waste: Single-use Carryout Bags would begin the phasing out of single use plastic bags. Beginning July 1, 2015, stores that have a specified amount of sales or retail floor space would be prohibited from providing their customer a single-use plastic bag. The stores would only be allowed to provide a paper bag at a cost of not less than 10 cents.

In the next phase of implementation, starting on July 1, 2016, the bill would additionally impose these prohibitions and requirements on convenience food stores, foodmarts, and entities engaged in the sale of a limited line of goods, or goods intended to be consumed off premises, and that hold a specified license with regard to alcoholic beverages. There are additional considerations and requirements regarding reusable bags and recycling efforts included in the bill's language.

Precedents such as these should be recognized and applauded for taking concrete measures to address over consumption, the increase of landfills and plastic oceans. Plastic oceans also known as gyers are an increasing concern as they degrade water quality and have a direct impact on the health of marine wildlife. A gyre, a naturally occurring vortex of wind and currents, rotate in a clockwise direction in the northern hemisphere and counter-clockwise in the southern hemisphere creating a whirlpool effect where marine plastic debris collects. There are 5 major gyres in the oceans worldwide, one of the largest is the North Pacific Gyre, also known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, estimated to be twice the size of Texas and swirls in the Pacific Ocean roughly between the coast of California and Hawaii.

Plastic bags, with a potential life of one hundred years, never fully decompose instead breaking into smaller and smaller pieces mistaken by the marine wildlife to be food. While their stomachs may be full, lacking in nutritional content, the health of our wildlife is severely compromised often resulting in death.

Even paper bags which seem to be a better environmental choice, are environmentally comprised in production utilizing chemicals and processes that are not environmentally beneficial. There are compostable plastic and paper bags, however, to be truly effective, recycling centers must have the type of facilities that allow for the bags to decompose. These are not always available.

Miami Beach also set a precedent on July 27, 2014 banning all styrofoam containers at all city parks, events, buildings and sidewalk cafes. These had already been banned from their beaches. Facing a fine of $100, tourists as well can be ticketed. The styrofoam ban by Miami Beach is a first for the state of Florida. It is hoped that this will be the beginning of a trend that will be matched by all the cities in the state.

Styrofoam, like plastic bags, essentially never decomposes but rather continues to break down into smaller and smaller pieces polluting water ways and compromising the health of our wildlife. According to the EPA in a publication, "Marine Litter - Trash that Kills", it goes into more detail regarding the crisis of plastic and our environment.

Kudos to California and Miami Beach for taking steps in the right direction!

California Senate bill SB-270 Solid Waste: Single-use Carryout Bags