The Phoenix Flyer

Plastics ‘monster’ haunts Capitol to call for waste reduction

By: - February 6, 2020 1:56 pm
A 'monster' of plastic litter stands outside Florida's historic capitol as Catherine Uden, Southast Florida campaign organizaer for Oceana, calls on lawmakers to reduce plastic waste. Photo: Laura Cassels

A ‘monster’ of plastic litter stands outside Florida’s historic capitol as Catherine Uden, Southeast Florida campaign organizer for Oceana, calls on lawmakers to reduce plastic waste that pollutes Florida waterways. Photo: Laura Cassels

A 15-foot-tall monster made of thousands of pieces of plastic litter was in the Florida Capitol this week to illustrate how much plastic enters the oceans: more than 8 million metric tons (18 billion pounds) per year, according to the nonprofit Oceana.

Greenpeace, Oceana and others came to Tallahassee to put plastics pollution in plain sight for legislators.

“There’s no way they’re not seeing this,” said Florida Rep. Anna Eskamani, an Orlando Democrat cosponsoring legislation with Miami-Dade Democrat Rep. Mike Grieco, to permit local governments to restrict single-use plastics and other disposable items polluting their waterways.

The plastics monster, created by Greenpeace, is traveling to major cities in Florida with ocean advocates calling on retailers to stop using single-use plastic shopping bags, which are very slow to degrade and dangerous to marine life.

Though numerous Florida communities have tried to ban single-use plastics and polystyrene containers such as Styrofoam, state preemption legislation prevents them from doing so.

In fact, the Florida Retail Federation stands ready to sue municipalities that pass such bans. In 2016, the Federation sued the city of Coral Gables to strike down its bans on polystyrene and disposable plastic bags. The city won at trial but last year the Federation won on appeal, based on the appellate court finding that 2008 and 2016 statutes prohibit local governments from regulating the use or disposal of packaging, containers, disposable bags and polystyrene.

“This decision reinforces the legislature’s ability and authority to govern these issues on a statewide basis,” said Federation President and CEO R. Scott Shalley in a published statement about the ruling.

“This decision helps ensure Florida remains a business-friendly state by avoiding a patchwork of regulations by the more than 400 local governments. I also want to thank the Attorney General’s Office for their partnership and support in joining this successful lawsuit.”

Greenpeace is calling on legislators to repeal the preemptive legislation so that local governments can manage their own backyards and waterways as they see fit, but conservatives are expanding preemptions this session to prohibit local governments from banning items such as sunscreen ingredients that harm Florida’s coral reefs.

“It is not acceptable for any retailer to push undemocratic laws that prevent local communities from acting on plastics,” said Greenpeace Plastics Campaigner David Pinsky.

Greenpeace ranked 20 top retailers on plastics management and deemed Florida-based Publix near the bottom, at No. 15.

The plastics monster and its entourage scheduled visits to Florida Publix outlets to ask for more environmentally responsible policies.

Oceana forecasts the volume of “mismanaged plastic waste” entering the oceans will double by 2025, a problem compounded recently by the decline in facilities to recycle plastics. Oceana stresses that plastic waste endures for decades and should be eliminated at the source.

Plastic products “are made to last forever but are often only used for a few moments,” Oceana says in its campaign literature.

The solution, say Greenpeace and Oceana, is to avoid using disposable plastics in the first place.

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Laura Cassels
Laura Cassels

Laura Cassels is a reporter, former statehouse bureau chief, and former city editor. She is a classical pianist, a Florida State University graduate and proud alum of the Florida Flambeau, an independent college newspaper.