“I’m an environmentalist, how hard can this be?” I thought to myself when I tried to reduce my plastic waste. I managed to fail this resolution by the end of the first day of Plastic Free July.
We use too much plastic. Packaging waste in the United States makes up nearly a quarter of landfill waste, much of it from food products. Tons of plastic winds up in our oceans each year, choking sea turtles and creating trash islands on our beautiful Florida beaches. Our problem with plastic doesn’t just end with packaging. Microplastics and plastic fibers are also contaminating our tap water.
The cold hard truth is that humans’ existence comes with a wasteful cost. On an individual level, we can form healthier habits and educate and encourage our neighbors to do the same. Individuals can be empowered to make lifestyle changes. But plastic waste is much larger than individuals can be responsible for. Without actual laws, we can only scratch the surface of solving our plastic problem.
Several cities in Florida have taken the lead on localized governance regarding how we use and dispose of single-use plastics. None of these bans, nor future bans, would have been possible if Governor Ron DeSantis had signed HB 771 into law. This ban on a ban (ridiculous, right?) would have prohibited municipalities from making their own laws about single-use plastics, sunscreens, and other local rules that impact communities. The Governor’s veto protected municipalities’ rights to make their own decisions about their communities’ well-being.
These three cities and many others across the state are making waves:
The City of Miami Beach passed recent ordinances to deal with single-use plastics. In 2018, the City Commission passed a ban on plastic bags, straws, and stirrers. The ordinances specifically ban these products from City properties, including parks, beaches, marinas, docks and boat ramps, and sidewalk cafes on the public-right-of-way. Enforcement began in February 2019.
The City of St. Petersburg has prohibited the distribution and use of plastic drinking straws and expanded polystyrene food containers. While the straw ban applies to all commercial entities in the City, the styrofoam containers are only regulated for the City’s contractors, vendors, and special event permittees, at City facilities and rights of way and on City property including in parks, marinas, piers, and docks. Straws will be available upon request until 2020 and the City will issue warnings in the first year and begin violations and fines starting in January 2020.
The Town of Surfside added extra items to their single-use plastics ban: utensils and dinnerware. Starting in March 2020, pending a second reading, it will be prohibited to use, sell, or distribute single-use plastics in any commercial establishment as well as on town property and the beach.
Between these three examples, and in measures we can expect to see from other cities across the state, all include a phasing-in period that educates businesses and consumers. All hold their city properties, contractors, and services accountable. All know that their economy is reliant on tourism, which requires clean, healthy natural resources.
It’s refreshing to see land and water conservation take such high priority. Seeing these policies in action, influenced by local residents’ desires for a clean environment, inspires my individual drive to both work on my personal habits, and encourage action in my community. Talk to your local leaders about what your city can do to be more sustainable.