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Kids to Palm Beach County: Ask state to save turtles, ban plastic bags

Kids from a local school did a full show-and-tell last week for the Palm Beach County Commission about why the panel should ask the state to outlaw, or at least regulate, plastic shopping bags.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Juno Beach-based Loggerhead Marinelife Center and students at The Benjamin School in North Palm Beach gave a presentation, complete with posters, explaining that the bags don’t degrade on sea or land, they introduce unsafe chemicals into the environment, and they can kill animals that eat them or are tangled in them.

The Legislature last year voted to prohibit municipalities from passing local bans on plastic bags. In a Feb. 6 letter, Tommy Cutt, Loggerhead’s chief conservation officer, asked the county to call on the state to ban or restrict the bags statewide, or once again let local governments do so. West Palm Beach Commissioners voted last month to support the home rule. Lake Worth did the same in 2015.

County commissioners Tuesday agreed to place such a resolution on the agenda for their next meeting, a Feb. 21 budget workshop at the Palm Beach County Convention Center.

“We ought to be realistic,” Commissioner Steve Abrams said. “Unless within one year they’re (the Legislature) going to change their position 180 degrees, it remains to be seen. But we can consider the resolution.”

In the youngsters’ presentation, Gabriele St. Martin, chair of the science department at Benjamin’s middle school, said her robotics club, as part of a national problem-based learning project, studied the interaction between sea turtles and human intervention in the form of the ubiquitous plastic bags. Spoiler: The turtles lose.

“The students have gotten quite the civic lesson,” St. Martin said. “Their frustration is in that it seems that the state doesn’t want to repeal or change.”

Each kid took turns breathlessly rattling in a monotone as he or she stared down at the script, nervously giggling after flubbing a line. Mayor Paulette Burdick had to remind the youngsters to pause to identify themselves.

But they dutifully spelled out the prevalence of endangered turtle species off the South Florida coast and how the animals often mistake the bags as their favorite meal, jellyfish, and swallow them, with fatal results.

“When people throw away plastic bags, even if they do so correctly, the bags often blow out of garbage cans, garbage trucks, and the landfills, before they can be buried,” student Jake Mendelsohn said. “Many plastic bags end up in the ocean, close to the shore, in prime sea turtle habitats. By banning plastic bags from retailers, plastic bags don’t end up in consumers’ hands.”

Watch Benjamin School video:

Burdick, a former Palm Beach County School Board member, praised St. Martin and “the very bright young people that were here today,” adding that “it’s very profound when young people come to local government to speak and advocate on a public issue.”

Vice Mayor Melissa McKinlay noted that she worked as a grocery store bagger — she never advanced to cashier — around the time the industry was switching from paper to plastic. Abrams recalled the same experience, adding “just to date myself, we only had paper bags… they never promoted me either.”

Staff writer Bill DiPaolo contributed to this story.

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