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Local governments in Florida would have a harder time regulating plastic under proposal

Litter is scattered all over the grass from the parade.
Nancy Guan
Litter is scattered all over the grass from the parade.

According to the legislation, measures to limit "auxiliary containers" would be "expressly preempted to the state." The bill also removes "obsolete provisions" on reviewing "specified" reports.

Local governments could not ban single-use plastics or polystyrene, also known as Styrofoam, on their properties under companion bills filed in the Florida Legislature.

This measure would be retroactive, so rules already in place in about 20 municipalities across the state would be affected.

Existing state law already restricts local governments from extending some of these ordinances beyond their properties. Florida became the first state to preempt local ordinances on plastic bags in 2008 under then-Republican Gov. Charlie Crist. The law also prevented local bans on polystyrene.

Mia McCormick, advocate with Environment Florida, said further removing the ability of local governments to regulate pollutants through SB 1126 and HB 1641 is bad for the environment.

"Nothing that we use for just a few minutes really should be allowed to pollute our waterways, woodlands or parks for hundreds of years. Florida really needs to move forward in this direction away from single-use plastic, away from plastic bags," McCormick said.

"These ordinances are put in place to protect the health of our communities, our local waterways, our parks, our beaches … and local governments are really the ones that are most well-equipped to decide what the threats are in their communities.”

Plastic Free Florida says on its website that an estimated 33 billion pounds of plastic enter oceans every year — that’s roughly the equivalent of dumping two garbage trucks full of plastic into the oceans every minute.

Cities can ban plastic straws

Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed a bill in 2019 that would have put a moratorium on local regulation of single-use plastic straws until 2024.

“A number of Florida municipalities, including Sanibel, Fort Myers Beach and Miami Beach, have enacted ordinances prohibiting single-use plastic straws. These measures have not, as far as I can tell, frustrated any state policy or harmed the state’s interests. In fact, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection has encouraged Florida residents, schools and businesses to reduce plastic straw use,” DeSantis said in his veto letter of HB 771.

In a 2021 survey, the DEP asked if residents and local governments think it's necessary to regulate single-use plastic. More than 90% of those who participated said yes.

“Everyone seems to understand the litter and health benefits of removing this harmful material,” said McCormick. “But the largest lobbying group against it is of course the Florida Retailers Association.”

She said the retailers association is the biggest supporter of these preemptive measures and that it has threatened to sue local governments in the past when they’ve tried to enact plastic bag bans.

Proposed action against environmental reports

McCormick said a portion of the current proposed legislation seeks to “stop the DEP from producing more reports about the impact of plastic bags on the environment.”

The bill language says to remove “obsolete provisions requiring the Department of Environmental Protection to review and update a specified report.”

The Environment America Research and Policy Center released a report that studied plastic bag bans across the nation.

It found that just five cities collectively prevented 6 billion bags from entering the waste cycle.

The report includes a calculator to plug in your state or city to view how many bags would be saved per year if bans were enacted.

“And for the state of Florida, that's about 6.5 billion bags a year that we could pull out of our environment, out of our neighborhoods, out of our landfills. It would be really amazing thing to see a ban like that,” said McCormick.

The measures are making their way through committee hearings in Tallahassee.

The Senate version was advanced by the Commerce and Tourism Committee on Jan. 16. Sponsor Sen. Jonathan Martin, R-Fort Myers, said he was willing to work with organizations in opposition to strengthen penalties against littering.

“I just want to remind everybody this isn’t legalized littering,” Martin said.

“I think it’s important to make sure we’re consistent across the state - that’s what this bill does - but also making sure we’re going after the bad actors and not law-abiding citizens who dispose of their trash properly.”

Copyright 2024 WUSF 89.7

Jessica Meszaros is a reporter and host of All Things Consideredfor WGCU News.