City of Coral Gables set to roll out official restriction on single-use plastic bags

Featured photo courtesy Pixabay user Ben_Kerckx.

Say goodbye to amassing all those plastic bags from grocery shopping and takeout orders. After a year of “education” for local retailers, the City of Coral Gables’ restriction on single-use plastic bags will be implemented in May.

UM began looking into opportunities to find alternatives to plastic bags as soon as Coral Gables introduced the ordinance. Chartwells School Dining Services, the university’s dining service provider, replaced its plastic bags with paper bags more than six months ago.

“We wanted to give our retail establishments a full year to transition to the sustainable alternative products,” Senior Sustainability Analyst for Coral Gables Matt Anderson said. “However, for our special events, enforcement began immediately with all new applications.”

In an October 2017 interview with The Miami Hurricane, Anderson said the city commission and mayor are “interested in becoming more sustainable and becoming a sustainable leader” in the nation.

The ordinance was passed in May 2017, but local businesses were given a full year to finish using existing plastic bag inventories and receive education on sustainability measures.

Retailers’ education included information on sustainability and the positive effects of the switch to reusable bags over the last year through ads, emails, social media and newsletters. Alternative options such as reusable bags, recyclable paper bags with a minimum of 40 percent post-consumer recycled materials and compostable carry-out bags that resemble plastic are all highly recommended by the city.

In a 2017 interview with The Miami Hurricane, Green U Sustainability Manager Teddy L’Houtellier said the move away from plastic products is necessary for humans and the environment. He said though recycling plastic bags is a good alternative to simply throwing them away, banning plastic bags altogether is the best way to ensure plastic debris does not end up in the ocean.

“Recycling bags is really energy intensive,” L’Houtellier said. “What we should do is make sure we use natural resources in a smart, sustainable way. Plastic is the opposite of that.”

According to the Center for Biological Diversity, Americans use 100 billion plastic bags a year, and it takes 500 or more years for a plastic bag to degrade in a landfill, where they eventually turn into microplastics that absorb toxins and continue to pollute the environment. More than one million birds and 100,000 turtles die each year from ingesting plastic.

The plastic bag ordinance is only one of 24 measures that Coral Gables has been gradually implementing over the past year as part of a “Sustainability Master Plan.”

The city aims to divert solid waste from residential and municipal operations by 75 percent by 2020, aided by the single-use plastic bag restriction.

Other projects focus on upgrading the city’s irrigation system, adding a fleet of entirely electric vehicles for certain city employees, increasing energy efficiency inside and outside, exploring renewable energy and waste diversion tactics, assessing the threat of sea level rise and creating a more pedestrian-friendly city with the use of bike and pedestrian pathways.

Anderson said the city expects a positive return on investment over the next 10 years.

Though most of these projects have been met with approval from the residents of Coral Gables, the plastic ban has received mixed reviews.

Cindy Hutson, co-owner of Ortanique on Miracle Mile, a Caribbean restaurant just blocks away from the Coral Gables City Hall, is not pleased with the new plastic bag ordinance because of a rise in expenses for businesses having to purchase the more sustainable bags. James Neuweg, manager of Fritz and Franz in Coral Gables, said it was costing him some but it was also good for the environment.

Fernando Orms, the managing partner of Seasons 52, another restaurant on Miracle Mile, said the ordinance aligns with the restaurant’s priorities.

“Seasons 52 is already focused on sustainability efforts,” he said. “For instance, our servers only give out plastic straws if requested, and many of our signature drinks and dishes are infused with natural ingredients.”

Businesses that feel the restrictions are unfair are welcome to submit sustainable alternatives of their own innovation to the city. Coral Gables will then review each situation on a case-by-case basis.

Featured photo courtesy Pixabay user Ben_Kerckx.