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Bagging Rights: Bullard's Altered Plastic Bag Bill Gains Committee Approval

Sascha Cordner

Senator Dwight Bullard of Miami-Dade has been trying for years to have Florida regulate plastic bags, with little success. The Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee* has approved a similar bill sponsored by Bullard that may do the next best thing- allow individual communities to create their own policies. 

Florida’s been trying to figure out how to manage plastic bags for several years. The bags are seen as useful, but at the expense of the environment. Varying local ordinances led lawmakers to impose a ban on bag bans- to allow policy makers to bone up on existing bag law.

Sen. Dwight Bullard (D- Miami-Dade) has been a prominent face in the ongoing struggle. He’s tried proposing a bill during his time in the House that would outright ban plastic bags in Florida, but the measure stalled. But Bullard submitted a bill like it and struck gold.

“Representative Richardson out of Miami Beach and I worked on, really, a compromise bill that turned the lifting of the ban into a pilot program for coastal municipalities,” Bullard says.

Instead of banning bags outright, the measure allows individuals the right to choose. It won the approval of the Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee earlier this week.

However, that doesn’t mean the bill didn’t have some critics. Samantha Padgett of the Florida Retail Federation felt that plastic bags have plenty of uses, and that banning them is short-sighted.

“The negatives are that it does not biodegrade if littered. And what you’re hearing from the concerns there are people who have littered plastic bags. The bag itself is not at fault, it’s how the bag is disposed of,” Padgett says.

Still, objections were few. Sen. Bullard says that, even though the bill had to be altered this year, the changes don’t matter. He says the bill still hits where it needs to, because coastal areas deal with a huge chunk of the pollution.

Marine life is often found caught in the bags, and some animals, like Florida’s endangered sea turtles, even mistake them for food.

“Because they can’t distinguish between them and jellyfish, and then birds may swoop down and end up biting a mouthful of plastic bags, as opposed to fish, and so, it just really, really tempers with our ecosystem,” Bullard says.

If nature were the only system beset by excess baggage, Bullard would be calling this a win. But plastic bags also get clogged in water filtration systems, and that isn’t an issue resigned to the coast.

Still, Bullard feels it’s a good first step, and hopes this move will encourage further discussions on the issue.

“For a state like Florida, which is surrounded on three sides by water, it’s pretty significant,” Bullard says.

The fight isn’t over, but for now, this mini-victory is in the bag.

*Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly stated this bill had made its way through the legislature, but it had only been approved by the Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee.

Matthew Seeger began his work in radio in 2012, during an internship he took with WUSF in Tampa. He went on to volunteer at 89.7 FM “The Voice” for several years as a news anchor and production assistant. He began working with the WFSU news team in January of 2015. In addition to reporting the news, Matt is a voice actor, having recorded and produced several creative audio pieces, as well as his own series for V89’s Vox Populi program called “Tales from Hell Creek,”-- a series of slice-of-life vignettes about dinosaurs.