Florida, like the rest of the planet, is in the grips of a waste crisis, and a new report just released by the state’s Department of Environmental Protection outlines just how dire the situation has become.
Yet state lawmakers refuse to listen to legislation that attempts to address the issue. Buoyed by this report, some South Florida lawmakers are now hoping to move the needle in the fight to stop plastic pollution.
“An overwhelming amount of people within Florida want regulation on single-use plastics to happen, so the time for it to happen is now,” said Amanda Di Perna, a student at Florida International University.
The new report from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection sounds alarm bells: 93% of Floridians surveyed, including residents, local leaders and business owners, believe regulation of single-use plastics is needed.
“We’re now breathing in the toxins released by burning this plastic because there’s just too much of it and we can’t handle it,” Di Perna said.
She and Taina Adam are members of a team of six FIU students from the Campus Green Initiative who spent eight months collecting research used in the FDEP report.
“It’s obvious that we’re not able to handle what we’re consuming, and if it continues, the plastics that are quadrupling will last into our environment for years and years,” Adam said.
Single-use plastics are items we only use once and then throw away. Plastic bags, takeout containers, utensils, plastic cups — they can’t be recycled and take 450 years to biodegrade. Many wind up in our ocean, killing our marine life and endangering public health. Data shows that in 2020, some 7,000 tons of plastic entered Florida’s marine environment.
“That makes me terrified,” Di Perna said.
The report is an update to a 2010 FDEP report that strongly recommended Florida start regulating single-use plastics. In 2008, the state actually passed a law preempting local municipalities from banning single-use plastics.
“Does it make any sense that the state is blocking local cities? No,” said Illine Davila, president of the Woman’s Club of Coconut Grove.
In 2018, the club formed Florida’s Plastics Free Initiative, joining forces with other environmental nonprofits instrumental in getting the state to greenlight this new study.
“We need Florida to break through,” Davila said. “We need somebody to just say enough is enough, take the plastics out. We live in a gorgeous state.”
But even that is now at risk. According to the report, Florida has gotten so trashy that we’re losing valuable tourist dollars to places like Jamaica and the Bahamas, which have laws banning single-use plastics.
“Right now Florida is losing $7 billion annually in our tourism sector because of the plastic pollution out here in our environment,” Adam said.
State Rep. Jim Mooney, R-Monroe County, just sponsored House Bill 1145, which if passed would allow only coastal communities with populations of less than 100,000 to pass laws to regulate single-use plastics. It’s only a pilot program that sunsets in two years.
“The next logical step is to take these plastics out of the environment,” Mooney said. “That’s the bottom line.”
“The idea is to try to get the ball rolling ... and see if there’s been any improvement or how we can improve the reduction of single-use plastics.”
A similar bill has been filed in the state senate by Dade Delegation Chair Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez, R-Miami-Dade, but it’s an uphill battle. Rep. Mike Grieco, D-Miami-Dade, has spent the past four years fighting to get his single-use plastic bill just heard.
“Every time the bill gets filed it is dead upon filing,” Grieco said. “You know the minute you file it’s not going to go anywhere.”
Plastics are a multibillion-dollar industry, and the Florida Retail Federation has spent millions flexing its political muscle, fighting any attempt to ban plastics.
“You’ve got folks in control right now that are very business-friendly, don’t really lean on the side of the environment,” Grieco said.
Mooney is hoping to change that.
“Even with the lobbyist side, there’s still a responsibility,” he said. “If you have a grandchild or a little baby, you need to think about their future.”
And the future is watching to see what our lawmakers do.
“Something better has to be done, and the cheapest and easiest solution is to stop the flow of plastics at the source,” Di Perna said. “It’s not enough for them to listen to us, they have to take action as well.”
Five weeks remain in this legislative session, and so far none of these bills has even gotten a committee hearing. If you want these bills heard, it’s important to contact your representatives and tell them how you feel.
See the full FDEP report below: