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Legislature Takes The Air Out Of 'Ban The Foam'

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Everything from black coffee to Kung Pao Chicken comes in a polystyrene, aka Styrofoam, these days, and the stuff doesn’t biodegrade.

That’s led a handful of Florida cities to ban polystyrene. But the House gave final approval Wednesday to a measure that would stop the “Ban the Foam” movement in its tracks.

Earlier this session, the so-called “preemption” language was quietly tucked into a food safety bill for the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

When it reached the Senate floor Wednesday, Democrat Bill Montford of Tallahassee was so eager to pass the bill, he failed to mention the most controversial part.

“There are several pieces of it. One of the most important is that it designates the Tupelo Honey as the state honey and I encourage your support.”

The bill basically prevents local governments from banning Styrofoam until the state conducts a study. Environmentalists fought to kill the preemption language, but the business lobby, including retail food giant Publix, consider it a must pass.

Democratic Representative David Richardson of Miami Beach says the provision appeared as an amendment the night before a committee vote.

“Sadly, this is the way things sometimes happen here in the Capitol. Especially when it’s a controversial issue. This is something that Publix wanted. They came into town. They told people what they wanted and they got it immediately.”

Richardson thinks single-use plastic bags should be banned, too, but his bills haven’t gotten any traction. The Legislature protected single-use bags from local bans in 2008.

The polystyrene bill applies only to local bans enacted after January 1st. Richardson’s hometown, Miami Beach, banned polystyrene two years ago and six smaller coastal cities have some type of regulations. Most would be safe.

But the bill would kill a local polystyrene ban Coral Gables just enacted, says Sierrra Club lobbyist David Cullen.

“The only reason they’re preempting regulation to themselves is to prevent anybody else from doing anything about the problem. And that is only good for the folks that manufacture Styrofoam and the folks that use it.”

Cullen says Styrofoam blows into waterways and clogs intake pipes, increasing maintenance costs. And he says turtles and other sea creatures eat it by mistake and get sick.

Environmentalists are calling for a “Ban the Foam” ordinance in Orlando and that may be what’s getting industry’s attention.

James Miller, a spokesman for the Florida Retail Federation, says a patchwork of Styrofoam ordinances would be too confusing. And retailers would just come up with something else.

“Polystyrene in general makes up about less than 1 and a half percent of all litter, according to a 2012 study. In fact, they create less waste than the paper sleeve that you would get around a coffee drink.”

Miller says retailers would have to pay more for a replacement and those costs would be passed along to consumers.