Miami-Dade County

Styrofoam coolers would bring $100 fine at Miami-Dade parks under proposed crackdown

A cup made of polystyrene, the generic name for Styrofoam, makes it away across the sand of Crandon Park before a reporter deposited it in the trash. A proposed Miami-Dade law would ban polystyrene from county parks like Crandon.
A cup made of polystyrene, the generic name for Styrofoam, makes it away across the sand of Crandon Park before a reporter deposited it in the trash. A proposed Miami-Dade law would ban polystyrene from county parks like Crandon. dhanks@miamiherald.com

A day at the beach for the Lo family meant a Styrofoam cooler filled with water bottles, juice packs, fresh fruit and the potential for a $100 fine if they keep it up much long longer.

County leaders want to ban Styrofoam from Miami-Dade parks, with a final vote scheduled for Tuesday that would impose the fine for people like Henry Lo and his trusty, lightweight, Publix-issued, University of Miami-themed, $5.19 cooler.

“It’s so light,” Lo, a computer programmer from South Kendall, said from his folding beach chair at Crandon Park on Sunday morning. “And cheap.”

The proposed ordinance joins a wave of similar crackdowns already enacted in Miami Beach, Key Biscayne and in cities across the country. Citing the crumbly remnants of smashed coolers, plates and cups, advocates of the ban say Styrofoam’s generic component, polystyrene, presents an environmental nuisance that harms wildlife, clogs drains and creates an oversized share of litter.

“It’s almost impossible to clean-up,” said Rachel Silverstein, executive director of the Miami Waterkeeper, an environmental advocacy group. “Municipalities spend a lot of money trying to clean up the foam debris.”

The ordinance calls for a year-delay in implementing the ban in order to launch a publicity campaign announcing the change.

Miami-Dade would not enact its ban for nearly one year, with the $100 fine going into effect on June 1, 2017. The ban would apply to any property run by the Parks department, a portfolio that includes marinas, beaches, and more than 200 parks covering roughly 13,500 acres.

The proposed ban officially covers polystyrene, the generic name for Styrofoam, and prohibits bringing the material into parks. It also would prohibit vendors from selling it. Along with coolers, primary targets are Styrofoam cups and to-go food containers.

The makers of polystyrene say bans like the one sponsored by Miami-Dade Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava ultimately cost consumers more because restaurants and other businesses must shift to more expensive containers. In a statement issued Monday, the American Chemistry Council said the problem is trash, not the chemical component of the trash.

“Removing polystyrene will not reduce litter,” read the statement. “You will only be replacing one type of litter with another, unless consumer behavior is changed through education.”

The industry won passage of a Florida law this year that bans local governments from regulating polystyrene outright, which is why the Miami-Dade law only targets what can be brought into county parks. County law already bans visitors from bringing glass into parks, and the proposed ordinance adds the new prohibition for polystyrene.

I can understand the ban. Styrofoam pieces get everywhere.

George Lo, beachgoer with a Styrofoam cooler

A coalition of environmental groups sent a letter to Miami-Dade commissioners Monday urging passage of the ordinance.

“Most marine-based foam debris comes from land-based litter that degraded into small pieces, traveled down the storm drain, and ended up in the ocean,” read the letter, signed by leaders of Water Action, Reef Relief, Audubon Society of the Everglades, and others. “Birds, filter feeding organisms, and fish often mistake foam particles for food.”

The ordinance calls for a year-delay in implementing the ban in order to launch a publicity campaign announcing the change. For repeat offenders, the fine jumps to $200 per Styrofoam violation.

For Lo, the proposed ban means only a tweak in his family’s beach provisioning. He’s got plastic coolers at home, but considered them too big for the modest collection of water bottles, Kool-Aid juice packs and fresh strawberries brought along for this expedition to the Atlantic.

“I can understand the ban,” Lo said while he and one of his three triplets, 8-year-old Christopher Lo, presided over the family beach spot at Crandon. “Styrofoam pieces get everywhere.”

He’s already complying with one park ban, anyway. “I didn’t bring beer,” Lo said of his cooler components, “because I didn’t have any cans.”

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