Cedar Key Sees 60 Percent Drop in Plastic Bags Found During Cleanup

The scene at a Cedar Key cleanup. (Courtesy of Leslie Sturmer)
The scene at a Cedar Key cleanup. (Courtesy of Leslie Sturmer)

If you’re a dog, then sometimes you just got to go.

You don’t think about your business bothering the clams or shellfish out on the clear water. Now, the city of Cedar Key has a solution to dog poop: recycling plastic bags.

A controversial bill circulating in the Florida Senate would allow the town and other coastal communities to ban or tax plastic bags, but even if it becomes law, it might not help the town of 703.

“We need them,” said Leslie Sturmer, a co-organizer with city commissioner Sue Colson on the local International Coastal Clean Up project. Volunteers found about 60 percent less bags on the shore in 2015. Sturmer and Colson say it’s thanks to recycling efforts.

Plastic bags can harm local wildlife on the bay, such as sea turtles. Every year, the International Coastal Cleanup project brings together volunteers from different communities to pick up grocery bags, cigarette butts and other garbage on the world’s shores.

Nearby Seahorse Key Outreach and Education Coordinator Maria Sgambati wrote in an email that she didn’t think plastic bags were a major issue in Cedar Key, and it might be normal for a rural town.

The Cedar Key cleanup team found 137 plastic bags in 2013, 126 in 2014, and 51 in 2015.

The city’s latest project is reusing the bags inside expensive dog poop stations. “The people are clamoring for more,” Colson said.

These bags can eventually end up landfills. There is no data on how many have, Colson said.

She sees education and awareness as the means of convincing communities about the importance of the environment. When children participate, you’re teaching them, she said. When people come to the marina and see the cleanup efforts, they realize the importance, she said.

“It’s America,” she said. “Nobody wants to be told anything.” She supports the bag bill but does not think folks in Cedar Key would support it, even if it becomes law.

“I know some of us really care,” Colson said. “The majority does not.”

“I would love to see a statewide ban,” said Maia McGuire, an environmental scientist at the University of Florida, “but I understand that’s not feasible because of the way certain things are worded.” Working on the Florida Microplastics Awareness Project, she helps brings citizens together to search coastal waters for tiny bits of plastic.

Even if one community has a ban, bags can arrive from neighbors that don’t, she said.

“Each community is going to be different in Florida,” said Senator Soto, who co-sponsored the bag bill. “Certain communities may, on their own, be able to reduce their plastic bag use,” he said, but others need extra tools.

He said Senator Bullard had difficulty getting a statewide bill to pass, so the sponsors decided to make it an option only available to coastal communities with less than 100,000 people.

“It was really a compromise to get the ball rolling,” Soto said, noting main targets are communities in South Florida.

Still, there are plenty of dogs in Cedar Key, Colson said. Clams and shellfish need clean water, and it’s bad if dog poop ends up in the bay, she said.

About Caitlin Franz

Caitlin is a reporter for WUFT News and can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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