Recognizing businesses that go out of their way to discourage consumption of single use plastics could reward and reinforce efforts to persuade instead of dictate.
Every day, we encounter common items that most of us just take for granted — literally. We buy something at the dollar store, the clerk puts it in a plastic bag. We stop for a cold drink on a hot day, and reflexively grab a drinking straw.
And once we’re done, those items go in the trash. To the landfill. Or somewhere else. Many Floridians just don’t think about it beyond that.
They should. By some analyses, up to 90 percent of the plastics produced today are intended as “single use” items: Forks, syringes, plates, bags, pull tabs, blister packs, carryout boxes, juice jugs and so much more
Some forms of plastic are meant to break down; others can be expected to endure, more or less, for hundreds of years. Recently, scientists have focused on the role of “microplastics”— tiny flakes, beads or shards of plastic that make up a growing part of the world's plastic waste, especially in the ocean. As the concentration increases, scientists worry that some sealife may starve to death because plastic in their intestinal tracts prevents them from digesting food.
That’s one end of the spectrum. The other are the giant floating “garbage patches” that have been observed, the largest of which, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch located between Hawaii and California, is roughly twice the size of Texas.
The concern generated by the proliferation of plastic is also widely divergent. They range from the outraged who demand politicians ban certain plastics to people who aren't anti-environment, they simply don't like to be told what to do or how to do it.
And there are elected officials in both groups.
The result is a confusing tangle of legislation. Thousands of cities and counties across the U.S. have plastic bans, along with six states. But more than three times as many states have “pre-emption” laws that keep municipal officials from passing any bans on various forms of bags (or other forms of plastic). Florida is in the latter category; it outlawed local bans on plastic bags in 2008, and extended that to polystyrene to-go containers in 2016. Earlier this year, lawmakers passed a preemption on local governments’ ability to ban plastic straws; Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed it.
We can see the arguments from both sides. We’ve always been averse to state lawmakers interfering with home rule. But we also understand how tough it can be for businesses to navigate a patchwork of local ordinances.
Is there maybe a better way?
One idea: Groups working on bans of straws and other items at the local level, can focus hard on public education as well. Signs near drink stations asking people to consider not using plastic straws is one idea. Clerks asking customers if they want a bag instead of automatically shrouding all purchases in filmy plastic is another.
These kinds of campaigns have the ability to work across state, county and city boundaries. Recognizing businesses that go out of their way to discourage consumption of single use plastics could reward and reinforce efforts to persuade instead of dictate.