facebook_pixel

Miami Beach gets to stay Styrofoam free — but the rest of the state is screwed

Miami Beach restaurant owner Steve Santana stopped at his local Publix recently to pick up a few Styrofoam coolers for a catering job. When he got there, the coolers were nowhere to be found.

That’s because two years ago, Miami Beach became the first city in all of Florida to enact a ban on Styrofoam on city property. Last year, that ban was expanded to prohibit the sale of the plastic anywhere in Miami Beach. (Santana simply used a paper bag instead.)

We wrote about the forward-thinking measures as an example of how individual cities might be leading the way on environmental issues like climate change. But it seems like Miami Beach and a handful of other municipalities who followed suit might be the first and last in Florida.

On March 16, Gov. Rick Scott signed a routine food safety bill into law — complete with a not-so-routine amendment that would put the brakes on any other local bans on Styrofoam.

The amendment was filed by Rep. Jake Raburn, a Republican from the Tampa-area, with support from the Retail Food Federation, a lobbying organization that works on behalf of its some 270,000 businesses around Florida.

Among the most prominent members of the group – and supporters of the amendment? Our beloved Publix.

Publix was very active in it. It’s one of the major employers in the State of Florida that relies on polystyrene,” said James Miller, communications director for the Retail Food Federation.

In an e-mail from Nicole Krauss, division media and community relations manager for Publix Supermarkets, the company confirmed that it supported the legislation that now gives “the state the authority to regulate the sale and use of polystyrene products by food service establishments like grocery stores and restaurants.”

Polystyrene is a plastic material used in food packaging, usually as a polystyrene foam, known commonly as Styrofoam. Styrofoam is particularly detrimental to coastal communities because it breaks down into small, virtually undetectable beads that scatter throughout the oceans. It’s pretty impossible to clean up.

Miami Beach, Bal Harbour, Bay Harbor Islands, Hollywood, and Key Biscayne all passed bans before Jan. 1, 2016, which means they get to keep them in place. And keeping this clause was also a fight, according to Miami Beach Commissioner Michael Grieco.

But in places like Coral Gables and Orlando — which were either in the process of passing a ban or passed a ban in 2016 — the prohibitions will be reversed.

“At one point [the ban] passed the House without the grandfathering clause […] they had to suspend the rules and go back and reinsert it, then approve the amendment with the grandfathering clause,” Grieco said (grandfathering is a term that basically means laws already in existence are exempt). “That doesn’t seem like a big deal to a bunch of lobbyists in Tallahassee. They’re making all efforts to undermine what we were trying to do down here to protect our waterways. I found that offensive.”

The Styrofoam ban is an example from the just-finished legislative session of the tricky balance of power between state and local governments.

The Florida constitution enshrines a concept called home rule, which reserves powers for local governments, allowing them to enact ordinances and resolutions without seeking approval from Tallahassee. But the state legislature has the ability to overrule local laws with legislation – something called preemption.

Home rule can be a good thing or a bad thing on environmental issues. When it comes to something like emissions standards, you’re going to have to set regulations at the state-level. But this session several South Florida legislators rallied against an attempt in Tallahassee to overrule local bans on fracking, arguing that the ecosystem here is far more fragile than that of other parts of the state. And when you’ve got some local governments way out ahead of the other parts of the state on something like, say, plastic waste, home rule becomes something that allows them to lead by example.

  • Alex Kasdan

    Im sorry, I dont think i understand a lot of this article. All the legal jargon and such….. but please correct me if im wrong – Does this bill mean, it IS illegal for restaurants and food service establishments to use styrofoam for there customers or not????? And if so, Why are they STILL using? is it because the law is NOT being enforced? Is there a penalty or fine if they are reported or found continuing to use it???? Im a bit confused and if there is no law saying it is illegal, how do i help to get one passed? I am beyond fed-up with the use of styrofoam and the harmful damages it is causing to our beautiful beaches, streets and ocean, AND EARTH!!! I would really like to get involved and if there is anyone out there reading my comment who can help me find more ways to help – PLEASE REACH OUT TO ME!!! I am passionate about this issue and want to help. THanks

    • Roshan

      This bill means it is illegal for a city to ban Styrofoam, aka no city can ban Styrofoam.

      Miami Beach has already banned Styrofoam, so that’s why the new bill doesn’t apply to them. But now, no other city in all of Florida is allowed to ban Styrofoam. So to answer your question, the first step to passing a ban, is un-doing THIS law. You can get the process started by contacting your local commissioner.

      And if you want to help clean up the beaches, I’d check out volunteercleanup.org — they host a bunch of cleanups all around the city, including the beach.

  • Alex Kasdan

    Im sorry, I dont think i understand a lot of this article. All the legal jargon and such….. but please correct me if im wrong – Does this bill mean, it IS illegal for restaurants and food service establishments to use styrofoam for there customers or not????? And if so, Why are they STILL using? is it because the law is NOT being enforced? Is there a penalty or fine if they are reported or found continuing to use it???? Im a bit confused and if there is no law saying it is illegal, how do i help to get one passed? I am beyond fed-up with the use of styrofoam and the harmful damages it is causing to our beautiful beaches, streets and ocean, AND EARTH!!! I would really like to get involved and if there is anyone out there reading my comment who can help me find more ways to help – PLEASE REACH OUT TO ME!!! I am passionate about this issue and want to help. THanks

    • Roshan

      This bill means it is illegal for a city to ban Styrofoam, aka no city can ban Styrofoam.

      Miami Beach has already banned Styrofoam, so that’s why the new bill doesn’t apply to them. But now, no other city in all of Florida is allowed to ban Styrofoam. So to answer your question, the first step to passing a ban, is un-doing THIS law. You can get the process started by contacting your local commissioner.

      And if you want to help clean up the beaches, I’d check out volunteercleanup.org — they host a bunch of cleanups all around the city, including the beach.

  • Rachel Streitfeld

    Can you send a link to the statutory language, please?

    • Rachel Streitfeld

      http://grassrootschange.net/amendment-to-hb7007-to-preempt-all-local-polystyrene-aka-styrofoam-regulations/

      CS/CS/HB 7007 was amended to preempt the regulation of the use or sale of polystyrene products (e.g. Styrofoam cups, containers, coolers, etc). This preemption would prohibit any future municipal or county regulations on the use or sale of polystyrene products, which may have addressed the environmental problems associated with its use.

      Section 7. Section 500.90, Florida Statutes, is created to 343 read:

      500.90 Regulation of polystyrene products preempted to department.—The regulation of the use or sale of polystyrene products by entities regulated under chapter 500 is preempted to the department. This preemption does not apply to local ordinances or provisions thereof enacted before January 1, 2016, and does not limit the authority of a local government to restrict the use of polystyrene by individuals on public property, temporary vendors on public property, or entities engaged in a contractual relationship with the local government for the provision of goods or services, unless such use is otherwise preempted by law.

      As I understand it, the bright side is that local governments can restrict the USE of polystyrene by individuals on public property, etc. So Miami Beach and other coastal municipalities or any municipality for that matter can pass any and all ordinances banning styrofoam on the beach, in the park, etc. This obviously would require aggressive enforcement, but enforcement can be considered an income stream if we’re looking on the bright side – perhaps to be used for an aggressive public education campaign or to fund more beach clean-ups.

      Surfrider Foundation, League of Cities, Association of Counties, and Sierra Club all gave extraordinarily compelling testimony before the committee, and they weren’t really having any of it, unfortunately.

      • Roshan

        Hey Rachel

        Thanks for your thoughtful comment, this information adds an immense amount of value to the article. Thanks for posting this for readers. And you’re 100% right, it doesn’t prohibit local governments from banning Styrofoam on city property. But as the City of Miami Beach found out — the big problem is enforcement. That’s why they shifted to stopping it at the source — the vendors. Education and beach cleanups would certainly be good enforcement measures, but if history serves as any example, it’s likely not enough to stop Styrofoam from getting to our shores. And yes those organizations did advocate against the preemption, but it seems that few legislators paid that much mind. Again, really appreciate your close, critical read.

        • Rachel Streitfeld

          My pleasure! Thanks for the great reporting – you guys are all doing a terrific job and as a Miami Beach resident and local, I am so appreciative of this outlet. Miami Beach has code enforcement officers throughout South Pointe Park, up and down Ocean Drive, and elsewhere. Hopefully we can create a culture of respect for the environment, even if it has to be forced upon the tourists and reinforced by the locals. But state preemption is generally lame, and this loss in Tallahassee is critical to cities’ self-determination on environmental and sustainability issues. Happy Hump Day!

  • Rachel Streitfeld

    Can you send a link to the statutory language, please?

    • Rachel Streitfeld

      http://grassrootschange.net/amendment-to-hb7007-to-preempt-all-local-polystyrene-aka-styrofoam-regulations/

      CS/CS/HB 7007 was amended to preempt the regulation of the use or sale of polystyrene products (e.g. Styrofoam cups, containers, coolers, etc). This preemption would prohibit any future municipal or county regulations on the use or sale of polystyrene products, which may have addressed the environmental problems associated with its use.

      Section 7. Section 500.90, Florida Statutes, is created to 343 read:

      500.90 Regulation of polystyrene products preempted to department.—The regulation of the use or sale of polystyrene products by entities regulated under chapter 500 is preempted to the department. This preemption does not apply to local ordinances or provisions thereof enacted before January 1, 2016, and does not limit the authority of a local government to restrict the use of polystyrene by individuals on public property, temporary vendors on public property, or entities engaged in a contractual relationship with the local government for the provision of goods or services, unless such use is otherwise preempted by law.

      As I understand it, the bright side is that local governments can restrict the USE of polystyrene by individuals on public property, etc. So Miami Beach and other coastal municipalities or any municipality for that matter can pass any and all ordinances banning styrofoam on the beach, in the park, etc. This obviously would require aggressive enforcement, but enforcement can be considered an income stream if we’re looking on the bright side – perhaps to be used for an aggressive public education campaign or to fund more beach clean-ups.

      Surfrider Foundation, League of Cities, Association of Counties, and Sierra Club all gave extraordinarily compelling testimony before the committee, and they weren’t really having any of it, unfortunately.

      • Roshan

        Hey Rachel

        Thanks for your thoughtful comment, this information adds an immense amount of value to the article. Thanks for posting this for readers. And you’re 100% right, it doesn’t prohibit local governments from banning Styrofoam on city property. But as the City of Miami Beach found out — the big problem is enforcement. That’s why they shifted to stopping it at the source — the vendors. Education and beach cleanups would certainly be good enforcement measures, but if history serves as any example, it’s likely not enough to stop Styrofoam from getting to our shores. And yes those organizations did advocate against the preemption, but it seems that few legislators paid that much mind. Again, really appreciate your close, critical read.

        • Rachel Streitfeld

          My pleasure! Thanks for the great reporting – you guys are all doing a terrific job and as a Miami Beach resident and local, I am so appreciative of this outlet. Miami Beach has code enforcement officers throughout South Pointe Park, up and down Ocean Drive, and elsewhere. Hopefully we can create a culture of respect for the environment, even if it has to be forced upon the tourists and reinforced by the locals. But state preemption is generally lame, and this loss in Tallahassee is critical to cities’ self-determination on environmental and sustainability issues. Happy Hump Day!

  • LeahSwanky

    One insidious fact not mentioned in this story is that lobbyists got their sponsor in the Florida legislature to attach the styrofoam preemption bill as an amendment to a FOOD SAFETY bill! Once the amendment sailed through committee with practically ZERO opposition from people like Senator Gwen Margolis, it was a done deal. Very sad that even our “progressive” legislators won’t stand up to Publix.

    • Roshan

      Hey LeahSwanky, Thanks for your comment — we did include that the polystyrene amendment was slipped into a food safety bill. But you’re right, after watching the House State Affairs committee meeting (http://thefloridachannel.org/videos/12816-house-state-affairs-committee/ around 14:15) after it was filed and tracking the bill as it passed through legislation, it didn’t seem to get much pushback. Rep. David Richardson on Miami Beach, however, did push for the grandfather clause which kept that city’s laws in tact.

      • LeahSwanky

        Thanks for your response and for publicizing this important issue. And thank goodness for public servants like David Richardson who stand up for what’s right even when his colleagues do not.

  • LeahSwanky

    One insidious fact not mentioned in this story is that lobbyists got their sponsor in the Florida legislature to attach the styrofoam preemption bill as an amendment to a FOOD SAFETY bill! Once the amendment sailed through committee with practically ZERO opposition from people like Senator Gwen Margolis, it was a done deal. Very sad that even our “progressive” legislators won’t stand up to Publix.

    • Roshan

      Hey LeahSwanky, Thanks for your comment — we did include that the polystyrene amendment was slipped into a food safety bill. But you’re right, after watching the House State Affairs committee meeting (http://thefloridachannel.org/videos/12816-house-state-affairs-committee/ around 14:15) after it was filed and tracking the bill as it passed through legislation, it didn’t seem to get much pushback. Rep. David Richardson on Miami Beach, however, did push for the grandfather clause which kept that city’s laws in tact.

      • LeahSwanky

        Thanks for your response and for publicizing this important issue. And thank goodness for public servants like David Richardson who stand up for what’s right even when his colleagues do not.