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Boca Raton & Plastic

by Samantha Harrold

Expanding the discussion beyond straws to include all single use plastic and waste in general is as important an issue for Boca Raton and Florida residents and certainly of equal importance to the rise in development and traffic in downtown Boca. 

The City’s Sustainability plan, issued July 2019, doesn’t mention any specific benchmarks on reducing single use plastic consumption in retail or food services, and the Mayor’s position on encouraging businesses and the public to voluntarily opt out of plastic use is a woeful under-reaction given the scale of the problem and the dismal statistics on plastic recycling. Indeed, the City’s own report cites that only 8% of all plastic produced since 1950 has been recycled. 

In defense of the City, the Florida State legislature was the first state in the country to preemptively ban local governments from regulating recyclable materials. In a 2008 law, the State decided that the Department of Environmental Protection must create recommendations (which was completed in a 2010 report) and that they are adopted by the Legislature, which has not been done. 

Since then, numerous South Florida counties have tried to pass various bans on plastic bags, straws etc. only to be threatened with a lawsuit by the Florida Retail Federation, the lobbying group representing retail giants Walmart, Target, and Publix amongst others. Coral Gables is now appealing to the FL Supreme Court over an August 2019 decision to strike down it’s ban on Styrofoam based on a 2016 pre-emption at the State level. 

What all this amounts to is the residents of Boca Raton and neighboring cities being unable to control their waste production and consumption while being forced to bear all of the environmental, ecological, and habitation consequences. I believe strongly that the citizens and businesses need to have robust debate about our role and responsibility in creating a more sustainable future. Also, the City’s Sustainability Plan needs to be greater than a PR exercise. 

Florida political leaders face a younger and younger electorate ready to vote on climate alone. The legislature must either act to introduce the 2010 Federal Department of Environmental Protection recommendations or allow local governments to pass their own.

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