Miami Moves to Ban Styrofoam From City Parks and Beaches

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Sure, that Styrofoam cooler is handy when it’s keeping your drinks cold. But once you’re done with it, the light-as-a-feather material doesn’t go away — it crumbles into chunks of plastic that clog waterways, threatening sea life for years to come.

Mindful of the environmental ramifications, several South Florida cities have banned polystyrene products in the past few years, and Miami Beach banned its sale altogether. Now the city of Miami is poised to join them: An ordinance proposed by Commissioner Ken Russell would bar polystyrene products from city-owned parks and recreation facilities.

“This is a simple but big step that will help curb the pollution in our area,” Russell said during a commission meeting last Thursday.

The ordinance, first recommended by the city’s parks department, passed unanimously on its first reading. It was applauded by local environmentalists including VolunteerCleanup.org founder Dave Doebler, who told commissioners Miami Beach has seen a drop in polystyrene pollution since its ban went into effect.

One public speaker encouraged the commission to go further by barring the sale of Styrofoam in the city. But that’s a more complicated move. Last year, the state Legislature decided that the simple, eco-friendly polystyrene ordinances were a problem and decided to forbid local governments from approving more of them.

But then a judge upheld Coral Gables' ban, and commissioners celebrated by moving to prohibit the sale and use of another notorious pollutant: plastic bags.

During the Miami commission’s meeting last week, Commissioner Francis Suarez pointed out that the Coral Gables example suggests Miami could potentially do the same thing. “Baby steps,” Russell responded.

Under the proposed ordinance, Styrofoam products would be prohibited from all parks, including Virginia Key Beach. And any person or city contractor caught violating the rules would be subject to a $50 fine. But first, the city would allow a one-year grace period.

“We’re not going to go United Airlines on Styrofoam,” Russell said. “This is about education; this is about teaching people and incentivizing them to do it right.”

A final vote on the ordinance is scheduled in a few weeks.

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