Plastic Pollution
March 11 2019

Florida considers ban on local straw bans

by Holly Parker

The Florida Legislature is at it again. A decade ago the Legislature banned local regulations of single-use plastic bags, two years ago they banned local foam bans, and now they've set their sights on local straw ordinances.

On March 4th, the Senate Committee on Commerce & Tourism voted to amend and pass SB 588. Originally, this bill made straws available on request but it also preempted (banned) local straw ordinances. That means cities that have already regulated plastic straws would have their ordinances repealed, and cities that want to ban or regulate straws in the future, will be unable to do so. The Committee voted to amend the bill to remove the straws on request provision and instead, ban all straw ordinances for five years while the DEP “studies” whether plastic straws are impacting the environment. Worse still, they added another ban on local sunscreen ordinances, like the one passed in Key West last month to protect their reefs from the chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate. More on the sunscreen preemption here.

To be clear, Florida does not need another study to show us that single-use plastic is impacting our environment. Anyone who participates in a beach cleanup can testify to the massive environmental impacts of plastic straws, bags, bottles, and food containers. In fact, there are studies showing microplastics in sea salt, deep-ocean dwelling crustaceans, our groundwater, rivers, and lakes, sea turtle tummies, and yes- even your poop. Only in the Florida Legislature is there some uncertainty about the fact that our environment is collapsing under the weight of the 8.3 billion tons of plastic that has been produced since the 1950s.

If we seem skeptical about yet another study from the Florida Legislature, it’s because we’ve been down this road before. Nearly a decade ago, the Florida Legislature commissioned a study on single-use plastic bags. They asked the Department of Environmental Protection to bring it to the Legislature the following year and decreed that until the study was adopted, no local government could ban, tax, or limit single-use plastic bags in any way. The following year, DEP brought the study to the Legislature, but they declined to adopt it- which means the preemption they put in place nearly ten years ago, still stands. In fact, the Florida Legislature has preempted regulation of single-use plastic bags, polystyrene (aka Styrofoam) foodware, and even the regulation of smoking on parks, beaches, or playgrounds (that’s right- a city in Florida can’t ban smoking on a playground…).

With more coastline than any state in the contiguous U.S., Florida should be a leader for clean beaches and a healthy ocean. We are deeply opposed to SB 588 and its House companion, HB 603. If the Florida Legislature isn’t ready to take action on plastic pollution, then they must let local governments lead. After all, our cities and counties routinely see the impacts of dirty beaches on tourism, their local economy, and their quality of life. They know that the plastic pollution crisis demands urgent action. Click here to find out how you can help!