The City of Coral Gables passed an ordinance on first reading last week that prohibits the use of carry-out plastic bags by retail establishments within Coral Gables and by any entity or individual who have been issued a city special events permit. Use of plastic bags will also be prohibited on any city facility, park or golf course owned, operated or managed by the City. This ordinance, the first of its kind in the state of Florida, was sponsored by Commissioner Vince Lago and promotes the reduction of litter and pollutants on city streets, parks, public spaces and waterways.
The ordinance, unanimously approved by the City Commission on first reading on March 14, requires a final approval on second reading at a future City Commission meeting. There are exemptions that allow the use of certain plastic bags such as those without handles used to protect food or merchandise from being damaged or contaminated, bags to hold prescription medications, those designed to be placed over articles of clothing on a hanger, door hanger bags, newspaper bags, garbage bags, pet waste bags and yard waste bags.
Thousands of marine animals and more than 1 million birds die each year in the United States after ingesting or becoming entangled in plastic debris. To marine animals, a plastic bag can be a floating minefield − to a sea turtle, a floating plastic bag looks like a jellyfish. Because plastic bags are so lightweight, they are easily airborne and found everywhere, littering the streets with many potential hazards and clogging up drains. Plastic bags are not accepted in most recycling collections including here in Coral Gables. In addition, plastic bags can take hundreds to thousands of years to disintegrate into the environment and more than 4 billion plastic bags can end up as litter which is enough to circle the globe 63 times. The City of Coral Gables wants to prevent this from happening in our own backyard.
As part of this ordinance, stores in Coral Gables are encouraged to use reusable bags or recyclable paper bags which are environmentally friendly. One reusable bag can replace hundreds or even thousands of single-use plastic bags over the course of its lifetime. To educate the business community, City staff has been collaborating with the Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce and the Business Improvement District (BID) to get their buy-in and offer a list of alternative bag manufacturers.
A six-month educational campaign will be conducted after the ordinance’s final approval by the City Commission. A $50 fine may be imposed for first-time violations, with fines increasing to $100 for a second violation, $500 for a third violation, and $1,000 for any subsequent violation within a 12-month period.
This plastic bags ordinance is similar to an ordinance enacted by the City regulating the use of polystyrene. Last month, the Eleventh Judicial Circuit Court in Miami-Dade upheld the City’s ordinance as valid and enforceable and concluded that state statutes being used in an effort to prevent the City of Coral Gables from enforcing the ordinance were unconstitutional.