The Coral Gables ban on plastic bags is now official.
Commissioners unanimously approved the ordinance Tuesday, making the Gables the first city in Florida to ban the use of single-use, carryout plastic bags.
The ordinance prohibits the use of plastic bags by retailers in Coral Gables and at city special events. Violators will be fined from $50 to $500, but before the vote, the ordinance was amended to delay the levying of fines against retailers for the first year. The version that won preliminary approval in March had the fines taking effect in six months.
The enforcement and fines for special events will start immediately. Special event organizers could have their permits revoked if they are found in violation of the ban.
Initially, retail violators will receive warnings. After the year-long window ends, fines will be issued starting at $50 and increasing to $500 after a third violation.
The ordinance does provide for exceptions including: plastic bags that the shopper provides, 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.
The item also encourages businesses to promote the use of reusable bags and gives retailers the option to provide reusable compostable or paper bags for free or at a fee determined by the business owner.
Commissioner Frank Quesada said he hopes to see a gradual reduction in those exempted items once full enforcement begins.
“I want to make sure that we come and we revisit this ordinance to see which ones we can knock off,” Quesada said.
Deputy City Attorney Miriam Ramos also clarified that the ban would not apply to smaller special events or private events like a child’s birthday party or a family reunion. Residents are also free to continue use of the plastic bags they may have in their own homes.
As with the first reading, the majority of speakers at Tuesday’s meeting were in favor of the ban.
“I want to thank you for standing up for what these local municipalities want and need in our own communities,” said Rachel Silverstein, executive director of the Miami Waterkeeper organization.
Chamber of Commerce president Mark Trowbridge, who initially expressed concern from businesses, said that many merchants have become more supportive since the initial vote.
“This was not an easy process and we certainly got plenty of calls from our businesses,” Trowbridge said. “Most are migrating away from plastic bags but they want to do so, kind of, on their own terms.”
The ban follows a court ruling upholding the city’s Styrofoam ban in a lawsuit brought by the Florida Retail Federation. The federation sued the city last July on behalf of its members including Super Progreso, a company that owns a 7-Eleven franchise in the Gables, months after the commission gave final approval to the Styrofoam ban. The federation has appealed the judge’s decision to the Third District Court of Appeal, where the case is still pending.
City Attorney Craig Leen noted that the appeals court could rule against the city but he expects the city to prevail.
“If the city does not prevail, the city will still at least have the benefit of having plastic bags reduced in the city for a year’s time,” Leen said.
Across the state, local governments are pre-empted from regulating plastic bags. A state statute required the Department of Environmental Protection to conduct a study by Feb. 1, 2010, on the need for new or modified regulation of containers, wrappings and disposable plastic bags. It also prohibited municipalities from regulating those products until the report’s recommendations were approved.
“The Legislature was given the report in 2010 and, to date, none of the recommendations contained therein have been adopted,” Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Jorge Cueto wrote in his ruling in the Styrofoam case.
Cueto ruled, in response to the federation’s argument that the plastic bag statute pre-empted the Gables ban, that the previous lack of action put local municipalities in an “indefinite limbo.” Citing the judge’s ruling, the Gables chose to move forward with the plastic bag ban.
As with the Styrofoam ban the city plans to conduct an educational campaign for residents and the business community.