On average, shoppers use plastic bags for less than an hour during their usual grocery runs. Nevertheless, 14 billion plastic bags are used per year in the United States alone, according to Waste Management. As a result, there are 46,000 pieces of plastic in each square mile of the world's oceans.
Now, one South Florida town hopes to do its part to reverse the nation's massive plastic footprint. During North Bay Village's commission meeting Monday, commissioners in a 3-0 vote approved a ban on single-use plastic bags, utensils, and straws, joining nearby communities of Bal Harbour and Surfside in prohibiting most single-use plastics.
"Massive amounts of plastic and debris are created through single-use plastics. Property value, visibility, and the sort of feel of North Bay Village is driven by that," said Vice Mayor Marvin Wilmoth, who introduced the ordinance. "This is creating an environmental hazard in terms of our food supply and the beautification of our waterways."
However, one resident voiced concerns over the ban's potential negative impact on small-business owners.
"It is going to be very expensive for restaurant owners," James McKnight said. "You are talking about a 30 percent hike in the cost of goods that will definitely affect small-business owners. Places like Pizza Delight will go out of business, so that is what you want to think about. The issue is that there is not enough supply for paper straws, and I have never seen paper utensils. I am pro-environment, but I just think you should think this process out."
The vice mayor responded that the ordinance has a provision to protect small businesses from incurring increased costs.
"In the ordinance, it specifically provides for small business if there is an increased cost that can pass onto the customer. [Then] that encourages people to bring their reusable bags," Wilmoth said. "We don't want to overburden our small-business owners here."
Another resident refuted the claim that the ban would negatively affect business owners by pointing to the village's successful Styrofoam ban.
"North Bay Village is the second municipality to pass the Styrofoam ban six years ago. No restaurant has gone out of business because of that ban," Richard Chervony said. "I back this plastic ban 100 percent. [It] will not affect the businesses at all."
The village's attorney, Dave Espino, mentioned the lawsuit over Coral Gables' ban on plastic bags but said the recent decision in favor of that city seems promising.
"This case, while not holding precedent on other cases, did create the foundation for legitimizing these types of ordinances in the face of legislation meant to preempt it... It was more pro-local government as against state action," Espino said.
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In May, the Florida Legislature approved a bill that would prevent local governments from enforcing plastic straw bans, but Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed it, siding with environmental groups and local governments.
The village's ordinance, which does not include single-use plastic bottles, is set to take effect in January 2020.
In addition, the city also passed a fertilizer ban that allows the use of only "Florida-friendly" fertilizers to prevent excess nitrogen and phosphorus from running into the bay and, ultimately, the Intracoastal Waterway. Such nutrients have contributed to harmful algae blooms such as the red tide last October.
The fertilizer ordinance includes a summer blackout period for fertilizer use owing to the increased risk of runoff associated with more rainfall.