It's been nine months since I joined a group of residents interested in reducing the number of plastic bags floating around, literally and figuratively, in the Keys.
The group runs a program called Got Your Bags? Florida Keys, a program sponsored by Green Living and Energy Education (GLEE). We are a small group with lots of support judging from the number of businesses and individuals that have given money, bags, in-kind services, time and personal pledges to reduce their use of plastic bags in the Florida Keys and help prevent marine debris and litter.
The program initially focuses on Big Pine Key and last fall, local businesses were asked to reduce plastic bags in their stores. Each business that signed the pledge to do its best to reduce plastic bags has a mention on the GLEE website. That list of businesses has grown to more than 60 and can be seen at www.keysglee.com/gyb. Businesses that sponsored our campaign have links to their websites.
In November, we launched the residents campaign at the Lower Keys Chamber of Commerce Arts Festival. It was a big success for a little program and that day, we gathered almost 300 pledges from individuals to reduce their plastic-bag use. For that pledge, they received a complimentary reusable bag to get them started or keep them going on that path.
Founding sponsors Save-A-Turtle, Last Stand, Waste Management, A Key Real Estate, TheRecycleBag.com and Monroe County Solid Waste and Recycling donated bags, time and money. Subsequent campaign sponsors First State Bank, The Nature Conservancy, Centennial Bank, the News Barometer, Deer Run B&B and Friends and Volunteers of Refuges offered additional bags, in-kind help and cash donations to keep the program going as we continued our outreach at four more events throughout the high visitor season on Big Pine Key.
The first storefront presence opened in February at the First State Bank Big Pine Key branch. They generously offered space for a pledge station, where residents and visitors can go to sign their pledge and receive a complimentary reusable bag. This location allows the outreach to continue whenever the group is not setting up a booth at an outdoor event.
Anyone driving north of the Big Pine Key stoplight cannot miss the 8-square-foot Got Your Bags? sign installed by National Key Deer Refuge volunteers at mile marker 30.5. It's a stunning visual reminder to those coming into and leaving Big Pine Key.
We have been encouraged to see supporters follow us on our Facebook page.
They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and we were very flattered to have interest from groups in Cincinnati, Orlando, Key West and Islamorada that want to implement similar campaigns. To help others, we have a tool kit that can be downloaded from our website. No need to reinvent the wheel.
The group's final outreach booth of the season is on April 20 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Earth Day festival at Bahia Honda State Park, mile marker 36.8.
Come by, say hello, pledge your support to reduce your plastic-bag use, marine debris and litter and receive a complimentary reusable shopping bag. Earth Day is April 22 and serves as a good reminder of what we can do to be good stewards of our surroundings and environment every day.
Shirley Gun is a member of the Keyswide nonprofit Green Living & Energy Education. She writes about green living and the four Rs -- reducing, reusing, recycling and rot (composting). She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.