adrian hayes santos In: Gainesville votes to ban plastic bags, Styrofoam | Our Santa Fe River, Inc. (OSFR) | Protecting the Santa Fe River
Adrian Hayes-Santos

The ordinance will need a second approval later this month and will take effect Aug. 1.

A plan to ban plastic bags and Styrofoam containers in Gainesville got the first of two approvals it needs from city leaders to become law.

Following a trend seen around the country and internationally, the move is intended to prevent additional waste from making its way into environment.

If approved a second time later this month it will take effect Aug. 1.

“I think we need to take a stand that protects our environment,” Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos said, who began pushing the ban last year.

The decision, however, didn’t come easy.

More than a dozen people spoke about the ban, both for and against, and at least two commissioners flipped their positions during the debate.

Commissioners Gigi Simmons and Helen Warren said they wanted a hardship exemption for qualifying businesses. They initially said she wouldn’t support the ban without the exemption, but ultimately did.

Mayor Lauren Poe and others disagreed with a possible exemption for businesses.

“This is a public health crisis issue,” Poe said. “This isn’t a vanity issue. We are poisoning our food system. We are poisoning our environment and we’re poisoning ourselves. We now have microplastics in the food that we consume.”

Polystyrene containers, more commonly referred to as Styrofoam, and single-use plastic bags have been proven to be harmful to the environment and food sources. The items often end up in waterways, affecting animals, reptiles and humans.

The items are frequently given out by retail stores, restaurants and grocery stores, but aren’t easily recycled. The city doesn’t collect or recycle either item. Some prepackaged items would be exempt in the ban.

The cost burden for the change will be felt by businesses across the city, a concern for many on Thursday. However, local restaurant owners for Loosey’s and Mi Apá Latin Cafe, said they supported the switch.

Gainesville plans to embark on a public education campaign before the ban takes effect.

Some at the meeting were critical of the change, with several saying local government is overreaching.

Gainesville resident Nathan Skop said the ban violates state law and shouldn’t be a government mandate. One woman asked the commission to consider banning helium balloons and straws. Others said the ban was “flawed” and will result in a lawsuit.

Commissioner David Arreola he isn’t scared of a legal battle over the ban, adding that he would like to see some of the largest polluters ’fess up in court about creating the issue.

“This is the last resort, I don’t know how to say it any clearer,” he said. “The planet has been irreversibly damaged.”

To ring in the new year, Jamaica banned the manufacturing and distribution of plastic bags, straws and Styrofoam. Other cities around the United States and internationally have also implemented similar bans. Coral Gables’ ban resulted in a lawsuit. That case is ongoing.