You want a straw with that? Battle over plastic pollution in Fl Legislature

plastic bag on roadside
Lawmakers don't want locals to have local laws - like banning plastic bags and straws. Julie Hauserman photo

Several cities in Florida have passed ordinances in recent years to ban plastic straws, bags, and polystyrene containers as part of a growing campaign to rid communities of polluting trash. Other communities have resisted the bans out of fear that they’ll get hit with legal challenges from business groups.

Several measures have been filed for the 2019 Florida Legislature on the issue.

A bill introduced by Boca Raton Senate Democrat Kevin Rader would prohibit restaurants and other related businesses from offering customers plastic bags and/or  straws. The bill does allow a business to provide a single-use plastic straw for someone with a disability or medical condition. First-time violators would face a $500 fine, and up to $1,000 for subsequent violations.

In response, Republican state Senators Randy Fine (of Palm Bay) and Anthony Sabatini (of Eustis) filed legislation that would authorize restaurants to distribute single-use plastic straws to customers upon request and make them available through dispensers.

Another bill in the Senate, sponsored by Republican Sen.Travis Hutson ( Palm Bay), would allow a restaurant to distribute a plastic straw to a customer only if requested.

If passed by the Legislature when it meets this spring, the measures would all but reverse local ordinances passed in cities like Coral Gables and St. Petersburg in recent years.

In early 2016, Coral Gables banned the use of polystyrene foam (also known as Styrofoam), and was immediately sued by the Florida Retail Federation. A judge upheld the ban, but the statewide business group has appealed the decision.

Coral Gables then came back in 2017 to become the first Florida city to ban the use of plastic shopping bags. Last December, the city of St. Petersburg followed up by banning polystyrene foam in 2019 and single-use plastic straws in 2020.

Major cities around the country have banned either plastic straws or plastic bags in recent years, noting that more than 8 billion plastic straws pollute the world’s beaches. Critics of the bans note that eight million tons of plastic flow into oceans every year, but straws make up less than one percent of that source of pollution.

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