By Mitch Perry, Florida Phoenix
More than 15 years ago, state lawmakers passed legislation to further control local governments from banning single-use plastics in Florida.
Now, members of the GOP-controlled Legislature and the Florida business establishment want to go further in removing municipalities and counties from regulating the use of so-called “auxiliary containers,” which would go beyond single-use or renewable plastics to include bags, cups, bottles or other packaging made of cloth, paper, plastic, cardboard, molded fiber, corrugated material, aluminum and glass.
The proposal (SB 1126) is sponsored by Fort Myers-based Republican Jonathan Martin, who introduced the measure before the Senate and Commerce Tourism Committee on Tuesday.
Plastic pollution has been linked to a variety of negative issues, including infertility and cancer in humans to severe injury and death in wildlife, according to a report from the National Defense Resources Council.
As of this month, 13 states now ban the use of plastic carryout bags statewide, according to the Retail Industry Leaders Association. That same organization says that Florida is among 19 states that have placed limitations on regulating plastic carryout bags, either in state statute or in their constitution based on July 2023 data.
Environmentalists came before the committee on Tuesday to strongly oppose the bill, and asked if the state is ever going to do anything to address the concerns around plastics.
“Plastics have been linked to cancer, lung and liver damage to humans, yet the bill preempts not only local governments but also the state from doing anything about it,” said David Cullen with the Florida Sierra Club. “Trash affects all of our communities. It affects our state. It affects our marine environment on which much of our economy is based, and yet the bill says ‘do nothing.’ That can’t be the answer for Florida. Do nothing. That’s what the bill says.”
Holly Parker Curry with the Surfrider Foundation agreed with Cullen that the bill does nothing to regulate the use of such plastics.
“If there’s no appetite to take action on these single-use plastics statewide then return that power to local governments so that they can do it,” she told the committee.
In 2008, the Legislature directed the state’s Department of Environmental Protection to produce a report a “Retail Bags Report” regarding the need and efficacy of both statewide and local regulation of bags used by consumers from retail establishments. In January of 2022, the DEP produced an updated edition of that 2010 report.
That 2022 report showed that “a substantial majority of respondents support the need for regulation (as opposed to the voluntary efforts supported by “many people and retailers” described in the 2010 report) with the understanding that survey respondents may have a high interest in SUCP (single use carryout packaging) reuse, recycling, and reduction strategies.”
Under the bill sponsored by Sen. Martin, further studies would no longer be required by the DEP.
“We’re going to take away any opportunity that you could have to be able to lean in on reuse or improved recycling or better recovery of these materials that we’re using in these ‘auxiliary containers’ so it’s just going to make it more difficult for Floridians to move away from plastic and to really reduce waste that we were swimming in statewide,” says Emma Haydocy, the Florida policy manager with the Surfrider Foundation, told the Phoenix last week.
Martin emphasized that the bill does not legalize littering, and he said he’d be “happy” to work with the environmental organizations that spoke out against the bill to strengthen the current laws against littering and “perhaps even entering some mandatory minimum requirements for community service” of those found guilty of littering.
The measure was approved by the committee, 4-0.
One of those voting in support was Miami-Dade County Republican Ana Maria Rodriguez. She has introduced a proposal in this year’s session (SB 698) that would actually require the DEP to submit an updated retail bag report with conclusions and recommendations to provide the Legislature as well allow coastal communities to establish pilot programs to regulate single-use plastic products.
The House equivalent of Martin’s bill (HB 1641) is being sponsored by Pasco County Republican Brad Yeager.
This piece was originally published at https://floridaphoenix.com/2024/01/16/the-florida-legislature-wants-to-expand-the-control-over-regulating-plastics/.