Palm Beach Daily News
December 13, 2019
Palm Beach Mayor Gail Coniglio sought to drum up support at a public gathering Thursday for a townwide ban on single-use plastic bags and polystyrene containers.
Coniglio is urging residents to sign a Change.org petition, linked on the town’s website, urging support of Florida Senate Bill 182. The bill would allow local governments to ban single-use plastic bags and polystyrene containers, which are filling the ocean and waterways and killing the birds and marine life that mistake them for food.
The plastics and polystyrene are not biodegradable. They clog storm drains and litter beaches. In the ocean, they break down into tiny pieces that are consumed by fish and, ultimately, humans who eat those fish.
“I hope we can become partners and work together to make an impact on the reduction of plastics,” Coniglio said. “The assault of plastic straws, plastic bags and polystyrene must end.”
More than 100 people turned out for the environmental program, which was hosted by the Palm Beach Civic Association at the Royal Poinciana Chapel.
Coniglio and the Town Council took a stand earlier this year, passing a ban on the use of plastic straws and stirrers that took effect on Thursday.
But the council was forced to repeal a ban on single-use plastic bags and polystyrene containers that also would have taken effect on Thursday.
In July, the council received a letter from the Florida Retail Federation, a statewide trade association, warning the council not to move forward with the ban.
The federation letter came after an appellate court upheld a Florida Legislature pre-emption that blocks municipalities from prohibiting the single-use plastic bags and polystyrene containers.
The City of Coral Gables, which is fighting to reinstate its ban against polystyrene products, has asked the Florida Supreme Court to hear the dispute.
Coniglio and council members have criticized the Legislature for steadily eroding “home rule,” which is the ability of local governments to adopt regulations that fit their needs and circumstances.
Other keynote speakers were Lisa Interlandi, executive director of the Everglades Law Center, and Jack Lighton, president and chief executive officer of the Loggerhead Marinelife Center.
Interlandi said many local governments in the state have passed ordinances such as the ones adopted by Palm Beach and Coral Gables. But she said virtually all have been repealed after they heard from the Florida Retail Federation.
But time and momentum may not be on the federation’s side. Interlandi said Florida is facing unprecedented environmental challenges, with toxic green algae filling its lagoons and red tide appearing last year on the state’s east coast.
The public is becoming more aware of the hazards of runoff from fertilizers and pesticides, in addition to the plastics and other refuse visible on the state’s once-pristine beaches.
“There is not a better time to act than right now,” Interlandi said. “Florida has more beaches than any other state. We are Ground Zero. If we don’t act, we can’t expect others to do it for us.”
Lighton said more than 90 percent of the world’s sea salt is now contaminated with plastics. The average person consumes enough plastic each month to make a credit card.
But people can start making a difference immediately by changing their daily habits, he said.
“Reusable bags are an outstanding opportunity for us individually to have an impact on the environment,” Lighton said.
Palm Beach Day Academy and Rosarian Academy students were at Thursday’s gathering passing out reusable canvas bags to people as they were leaving. The bags, which carried the name of the Palm Beach Civic Association and the message “Protect Our Paradise,” were donated by the Michael and Margaret Picotte Foundation.
Coniglio’s petition also asks residents to email and ask Gov. Ron DeSantis to support Senate Bill 182.
In May, DeSantis, siding with environmental groups and local governments, vetoed a bill that would have suspended local bans of plastic straws for five years. DeSantis said the local bans had done nothing to harm the state’s interest.
As of Thursday, the town’s petition had amassed about 2,000 signatures — still far short of Coniglio’s goal of 10,000.
Coniglio said she has written letters to DeSantis, legislators and to other municipalities, seeking to organize support for the plastic bag ban.
“Government works very slowly,” she said. “However, we’re banging the drum, swinging the bat, and constantly imploring the legislature to at least let us govern our own town (on matters) affecting our ocean and our personal health.”