Plastic Pollution, Bag Bans, Expanded Polystyrene Foam
July 17 2019

Plastic ordinances prevail in Florida

by Holly Parker

It’s not news that single-use plastics have major environmental impacts. Straws, bottles, foam containers, cigarette butts all litter our beaches and waterways. Hardly a day goes by when another study isn’t released documenting the impacts of microplastics. We now know that microplastics are found in our drinking water, the air, deep-sea critters, rain, and even our poop. Sadly, while other states were busy regulating plastics straws, bags, and foam containers, the Florida Legislature was actively taking steps to thwart local ordinances in Florida.

How we got here.

In 2008, Florida became the first state to preempt local plastic bag bans and fees, and just a few years later they preempted most local regulation of polystyrene. Florida has also preempted the regulation of smoking on beaches, parks, and playgrounds. Finally, last year, the Legislature passed a ban on local straw ordinances. Fortunately, Governor DeSantis stepped in with a veto; otherwise the last vestige of local control of plastics would have disappeared.

Fortunately, times are changing! Three years ago, Coral Gables implemented a ban on polystyrene foam foodware. The city was promptly sued by the Florida Retail Federation, which alleged the ordinance violated state statutes. The Miami-Dade Circuit Court found for Coral Gables and allowed the ordinance to stand. In his decision, Judge Jorge Cueto also addressed the plastic bag preemption, writing that it was “unconstitutionally vague” and that, “The statute provides no guidelines or deadlines with respect to the Department’s adoption or rejection of the environmental recommendations [on plastic bags], leaving local governments and state agencies in a state of indefinite limbo.”

The decision has been appealed to the Third District Court of Appeal and is still pending. Coral Gables, however, has also moved forward with a local plastic bag ban. Following Coral Gables, a number of other cities and towns have decided to move forward with their own local plastic ordinances.

Moving forward.

In the past few months, plastic ordinances have been popping up across Florida. Most recently the town of Surfside passed a bag ban to compliment their existing foam and plastic straw bans. Leon County and Seminole County are both considering bans on foam and straws on public property, much like the ordinance Orlando passed earlier this year. The city of Gainesville passed a ban on polystyrene and plastic bags in January, as did Palm Beach in June and St. Augustine Beach in July.

What’s next?

Surfrider Foundation members continues to advocate for legislation to reduce plastic pollution statewide. We have also supported legal efforts in Coral Gables by submitting an amicus curiae brief. Finally, our chapters are advocating for change by supporting ordinances that reduce plastic pollution locally. Find your local chapter and join the fight!