Beach-goers across the state of Florida largely agree that there’s far too much plastic in the waterways.
So why would the state want to pass legislation to stop local authorities from banning plastic straws?
Samantha Padgett, an attorney for the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, said Friday on The Florida Roundup that local bans burden consumers and the hospitality industry and are “not a long-term sustainable solution.”
“It feels good to ban the straw but the practical impact is very small on the plastics issue and potentially very significant impact on the consumer,” she said.
In the effort to clean up the environment, a number of Florida cities have banned plastic bags and plastic straws in recent years. Several cities have banned Styrofoam containers at grocery stores and restaurants.
Last week, a Senate committee approved a bill to ban local bans on plastic straws for five years as the state studies the issue. Palm Coast Republican Travis Hutson said, “government shouldn’t come in and tell a business how to operate.”
If approved by lawmakers, the state preemption of local bans would take effect July 1.
Holly Parker Curry, the Florida Regional Manager of the Surfrider Foundation, an organization that works to protect oceans and beaches, called the legislation a “huge government overreach” and said her organization would fight it “tooth and nail.”
“There are times when we have to take regulatory action because a crisis demands it. And that’s what we’re experiencing now. It’s a crisis,” Parker Curry said. “Anyone who goes to beach sees the impact of single-use plastics.”
Plastic takes more than 400 years to degrade. A 2018 study published in the peer-reviewed journal Science found that 79% of single-use plastic ends up in landfills, eventually making its way into the ocean.
Surfrider hosts regular beach cleanups across the state, which Parker Curry said result in an unbelievable amount of collected plastic.
"At every single one we leave with bags and bags of single-use plastics," she said. "That includes everything from cigarette butts -- which are a form of plastic -- to plastic bags, straws, stirrers, bottles caps. They are everywhere and they are impacting our environment in really urgent ways.”
“Unless the state is ready to take drastic action, then they need to keep it in the hands of local governments that are,” she added.
But Padgett said a patchwork of local regulations makes it hard for businesses that operate in multiple locations to keep up.
“If you’re a large restaurant or if you have multiple outlets, it's very difficult to be able to keep up with those and make sure you’re adhering with the requirements and all the specificities of all the different ordinances,” she said.
She said businesses should be free to make their own choices, which could include making straws optional, or by "request only."
That's "a great middle-of-the-road position for our restauranteurs," she said, "so that the option is there but it also curbs usage."