In July of last year, the City Commission adopted two ordinances addressing some of the most common single-use plastic items including plastic straws, stirrers, and plastic bags. One ordinance extends the existing ban on single-use plastic straws and stirrers from the beaches to all City properties, including marinas, parks, piers, docks, boat ramps and sidewalk cafés. It also applies to contractors and anyone with a special event permit for a City-owned property. The second ordinance prohibits the use of single-use carry out plastic bags on City right of ways and to sidewalk café patrons.
To give businesses time to phase out their existing inventories and find alternatives, there was a three-month educational period from August 6 to October 31, 2018 and another three-month period for written warnings starting November 1, 2018. The warning period ends January 31 and then enforcement begins.
The City’s education campaign has urged businesses to consider reusable items first, then “single-use substitutes such as paper, sugar cane, bamboo, or other similar non-plastic materials.”
One important note from the City: “The straw/stirrer ordinance does not allow for biodegradable or compostable plastics as substitutes.”
In conjunction with the move away from single-use plastic on City properties, the #PlasticFreeMB business program was launched in November to encourage businesses to voluntarily make the switch. As of this writing, the program has 74 registered businesses.
The City has also partnered with Debris Free Oceans (DFO) to help businesses locate plastic alternatives and find discounts.
Did you know?
Over eight million metric tons of plastic are found in our oceans every year, impacting our marine wildlife, fisheries, and tourism, and costing at least $8 billion in damage to marine ecosystems. The remains and broken-down particles of these types of plastic can be ingested by wildlife such as shore birds, sea turtles, and fish.
City of Miami Beach Environment and Sustainability Director, Elizabeth Wheaton, said the feedback to the ordinances and the Plastic Free campaign has been positive. The biggest question is from residents who want to know why this only applies to sidewalk cafés and is not citywide. The answer: The State pre-empts local jurisdictions from making their own policy regarding plastic bags and straws.
Of the 74 businesses that have voluntarily agreed to move away from single-use plastic, most had already made some commitment prior to the campaign but are now formally recognized by the City. Next, will be outreach to others that may also be making the move but are “not connected into the sustainability networks,” followed by businesses that are “interested but don’t know how to go about doing it,” Wheaton said. Groups such as VolunteerCleanUp.org, the Surfrider Foundation, and Debris Free Oceans are helping to get the word out.
Debris Free Oceans (DFO) is developing a procurement platform with a list of vendors that provide alternatives to single-use plastics including a list of items and their cost. Wheaton said DFO is also working on a discount program.
The City has begun working with the PTA at South Pointe Elementary which is interested in “how to get single-use plastics removed from that school or at least provide options for the students and parents.” Wheaton said the City has a kit that it gives out at events with reusable forks and spoons and they are now looking to help schools provide those same types of kits for students.
“This is one of those programs when people hear about it, they come up with ideas for how we expand this,” Wheaton said.
Vendors have contacted her department as well letting them know about their products. One of the more unusual ones, a company that makes straws out of avocado pits.
Other local governments have also contacted her wanting to get involved. “I think there is definitely a movement away from single-use plastics,” she said. There have been initial conversations with Miami-Dade County on a potential “Plastic Free 305,” connecting it in with the 100 Resilient Cities initiative here. But first priority is getting the Miami Beach program fully launched.
Wheaton said the State pre-emption is “frustrating because our residents wonder why we can’t we do more. Nobody wants to hear about preemption, it’s not sexy and everybody wants to know why." But she’s hopeful about the momentum that’s out there.
“This is really becoming a larger movement throughout the nation and the world,” she said. “All of a sudden we woke up one day last year and plastic straws were a thing of the past and it happened overnight.”
“You have Hollywood who has become engaged and through social media the word and the messaging gets spread so much quicker, so I think we’ve just seen this idea catch like wildfire.” As more municipalities get onboard, Wheaton said, “Hopefully we’ll get something changed in the State and we can see more movement on the reduction of single-use plastics.”
Meanwhile, in Tallahassee legislation has been introduced in the State Senate to repeal the State pre-emption on plastic bags. State Representative Michael Grieco who first proposed the ban on plastic bags from the City's sidewalk cafés when he was a City Commissioner in 2017 says he is working on a corresponding bill to introduce in the State House during this legislative session.
UPDATE February 8, 2019: Grieco and Orlando Representative Anna Eskamani have co-sponsored legislation to lift the preemption on muncipalities that restricts their ability to ban single-use plastics, polystyrene and recyclable materials.
“Removing the state’s preemption on banning single-use plastic and Polystyrene is not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do,” said Grieco said in a press release. “As a former city official myself, I believe firmly in the power of local control, alongside the importance of protecting our environment at a place-based level.”
Photo: Heath Doman