Coral Gables Might Become the First Florida City to Ban Plastic Bags

Garrett Coakley via flickr
Last month, a judge upheld Coral Gables' ban on Styrofoam products, finding that a state law barring the city from enforcing the ordinance was unconstitutional. Now some city officials want to take on another notorious pollutant: plastic bags.

Commissioner Vince Lago is sponsoring an ordinance that would prohibit the sale, use, or distribution of plastic bags by retail establishments in the city. Hundreds of cities around the nation have banned plastic bags, but Coral Gables would be the first in Florida — in large part because of that state law, which has put a stranglehold on local towns' attempts to clean up the environment.

But Lago says the bags clearly threaten wildlife and marine life and litter the beaches and coastal waters.

"I've got a 5- and a 2-year-old, and a lot of the issues that I drive home and are important to me are focused on the future," Lago tells New Times.

He plans to meet with local business leaders today to get their thoughts on the ordinance and then propose it during the commission's meeting next Tuesday.

Environmentalists are already cheering the move. Michael DeFilippi, who started the Facebook group Clean Up Miami Beach, says Coral Gables would be first in Florida to ban plastic bags. Other cities, from Chicago to Seattle to San Francisco, have similar measures in place.

But in the Sunshine State, legislators barred local governments from enacting any rules regulating containers, wrappings, or disposable bags. The legislation called upon the Department of Environmental Protection to submit an analysis of the regulations needed by 2010, which it did.  

Cities have been left in limbo by the law, which "allows the state to do nothing — indefinitely," Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Jorge Cueto wrote in his ruling on Coral Gables' Styrofoam ban. His decision came after the Florida Retail Federation sued to prevent the city from enforcing its rule, claiming it was unlawful under a state law passed last year.

That law forbade local governments from banning Styrofoam. It grandfathered in cities that had passed regulations before January 2016, including Miami Beach. Coral Gables, which tentatively passed its ban in December and gave it final approval in February, was the only city affected. The judge agreed it had been targeted by the state.

Coral Gables City Attorney Craig Leen says, in his view, the judge's ruling means the city is no longer governed by the state's statute ban on regulating containers, wrappings, or disposable bags.

Therefore, the city can move forward with eliminating plastic bags, a move he calls common sense.

"We don't want Styrofoam in our parks — its not biodegradable," he says. "We don't want plastic bags flying around that can affect wildlife. And then we also don't want to be contributing to a problem where the Styrofoam and plastic bags go into a landfill and just pile up."