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Bill against single-use plastics failed to garner traction in Tallahassee


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Doing something about single-use plastics in Florida, and those products’ detrimental environmental effects, remains a challenging task, as bills that would do so once again failed to receive committee hearings during the latest Legislative Session.

Islamorada Republican Rep. Jim Mooney and Doral Republican Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez filed bills that would’ve allowed coastal communities to run pilot programs to regulate single-use plastics to discourage their use.

The life cycle of single-use plastic is a serious environmental problem from beginning to end, starting with fossil fuel extraction, going through the tremendous amount of resources necessary to refine the product, to the creation of tiny plastic pellets that are known to pose serious pollution hazards where they’re made and transported.

That gets us to the final product, an item that, depending on the form, can end up in the stomachs of wildlife and remain in the environment indefinitely. A significant push in coastal communities is to ban single-use plastic bags, items that get into waterways and pose a danger to wildlife. Sea turtles, for instance, mistake plastic bags for otherwise edible jellyfish.

There’s also the emissions problem.

“Plastic production is the last gasp of the fossil fuel industry,” former EPA Regional Administrator and Beyond Plastics President Judith Enck said in a 2021 report.

“Made from a combination of chemicals and fossil fuels, plastic produces greenhouse gas emissions at every stage of its life cycle. To provide context, if plastic were a country, it would be the world’s fifth-largest greenhouse gas emitter, beating out all but China, the U.S., India and Russia.”

Mooney pulled the bill from consideration on March 7, and Rodriguez’s bill died in the Senate Committee on Commerce and Tourism.

Neither office responded to requests for comment. But representatives of the Sierra Club said the bills’ lack of progress, and others like them in previous Sessions, is due to the petrochemical industry and its allies refusing to let the bills get committee hearings.

David Cullen, a lobbyist for the Sierra Club, said the last time similar legislation did get heard in committee – a plastic bag pilot program in 2017 – the only people with appearance cards against the bill were representatives of Associated Industries of Florida, the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the Florida Retail Federation.

“There are two things at work here,” Cullen said. “Fossil fuel-based industry protecting its market share while blithely ignoring the damage it is doing to the planet on many fronts, including, but not limited to, plastic pollution’s impact on wildlife, and its ubiquitous presence in our lives – even including in mother’s milk – and (carbon dioxide) and (methane) emissions driving climate change, and preemption by the Legislature in the service of those interests to prevent the rational policy from moving forward.”

State law, notably, already preempts localities from instituting their plastic bag bans, hence the necessity of bills allowing only pilot projects.

Businesses could line up behind new plastics regulations if so chose, which happened in California last year.

“While California businesses, both large and small, face a maze of environmental regulations as a result of this bill, we believe that this proposal ensures long-term policy certainty around recycling and packaging,” Jennifer Barrera, President and CEO of the California Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement when the proposal was filed.

Wes Wolfe is a reporter who’s worked for newspapers across the South, winning press association awards for his work in Georgia and the Carolinas. He lives in Jacksonville and previously covered state politics, environmental issues and courts for the News-Leader in Fernandina Beach. You can reach Wes at wes@floridapolitics.com and @WesWolfeFP. Facebook: facebook.com/wes.wolfe.