Coral Gables

Coral Gables moves to become first city in Florida to ban plastic bags

A woman walks with a plastic bag in Sacramento, Calif., on Wednesday, May 14, 2014.
A woman walks with a plastic bag in Sacramento, Calif., on Wednesday, May 14, 2014. AP

After a victory in court last week over its Styrofoam ban, Coral Gables plans to discuss a similar restriction — banning plastic bags by retailers and at city events.

The item will likely be considered at Tuesday’s City Commission meeting. Commissioner Vince Lago, who sponsored the polystyrene ban, is also sponsoring the plastic bag ordinance.

“We have to understand that there is a nexus between conducting business and environmental stewardship, especially in South Florida,” Lago said.

The proposal follows a final judgment upholding the city’s Styrofoam ban in a lawsuit by the Florida Retail Federation.

Coral Gables was sued last July by the federation on behalf of its members including Super Progreso, a company that owns a 7-Eleven franchise in the Gables, after the commission gave final approval to the ban in February 2016. That vote came after the Florida Legislature passed a bill prohibiting municipalities from enacting Styrofoam bans that weren’t in effect by Jan. 1, 2016.

Commissioners gave tentative approval to the item in December 2015, banning the use of expanded polystyrene — Styrofoam — by city vendors, at special events and in take-out food containers, but it didn’t take effect until after that cutoff date.

Other municipalities like Miami Beach, Bal Harbour, Bay Harbor Islands and Key Biscayne were allowed to keep their bans, which were already law.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Jorge Cueto ruled that the state’s statute unfairly targeted Coral Gables and was unconstitutional. He also ruled that two related statutes were unconstitutionally vague as it relates to plastic bag regulation.

“The state required the Department of Environmental Protection to conduct a study and provide a report to the Legislature no later than February 1, 2010, which it did,” Cueto wrote. “The Legislature was given the report in 2010 and, to date, none of the recommendations contained therein have been adopted.”

Cueto argued that the previous lack of action put local municipalities in an “indefinite limbo,” so Gables leaders are proceeding with the plastic bag ban.

“We’ll be the first city in Florida to do it and it’s because of this case,” City Attorney Craig Leen said.

The plastic bag ban will be similar to the city’s Styrofoam ban and will focus on single-use, carryout bags, according to a draft version of the ordinance.

The ordinance will ban plastic bag use at city special events and by city retailers. The ordinance does provide for exceptions including: plastic bags that a person brings into a store or uses on their own, plastic bags without handles, bags used to hold prescription medicines at a pharmacy or veterinarian’s office, dry cleaning bags, pet waste bags, yard waste or trash bags and newspaper bags.

Violators could be fined, starting at $50 and increasing to $500 after a third violation in a one-year period. At first, violators would receive warnings.

The item also encourages businesses to promote the use of reusable bags and gives retailers the option to provide the bags, or paper bags, for a fee of at least 10 cents.

As with the Styrofoam ban, city leaders will meet with members of the city’s chamber of commerce and business improvement district to discuss the item.

Palm Beach County and cities like Jacksonville Beach have sponsored resolutions in support of plastic bag bans and officials like state Rep. David Richardson, D-Miami Beach, have sponsored legislation calling for a ban in select areas of the state.

Plastic bags were banned across California last year, and other cities including Seattle and Austin, Texas, have also prohibited their use.

“I’m a Republican and this is not just a Democrat issue, this is above and beyond politics,” Lago said. “There’s no reason why we should not be protecting our environment especially when we have aging infrastructure which suffers when plastic bags become clogged in the system.”

The item will require two commission votes before final approval. The Coral Gables City Commission meeting begins at 9 a.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 405 Biltmore Way.

Lance Dixon: 305-376-3708, @LDixon_3