Tampa considers single-use plastic ban

City Council members want a draft ordinance by early March to ban Styrofoam and other plastics from city-owned property. Mayor Jane Castor isn’t on board yet.
The Tampa City Council is considering a single-use plastic ban. Mayor Jane Castor is still making up her mind.  [SCOTT KEELER | Times]
The Tampa City Council is considering a single-use plastic ban. Mayor Jane Castor is still making up her mind. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]
Published Feb. 1, 2020

TAMPA — St. Petersburg has done it. So has Orlando. But Tampa city attorneys recently counseled city council members to go slow on a proposed ban on single-use plastics in parks and other city-owned property.

Lawsuits challenging similar laws and possible legislation in Tallahassee made it risky to rush a proposal into law. And Orlando has protected itself by making a ban part of an administrative policy instead of an ordinance, giving the mayor the power to implement it.

“My recommendation is to wait,” said Jan McLean, senior assistant city attorney, at a Jan. 30 workshop.

A band of activists, though, said those fears weren’t realistic. No one has sued St. Petersburg, which banned plastic straws from restaurants and other commercial establishments in 2018, a much more far-reaching measure that went into effect in January.

“Whatever St. Pete has on the books, they aren’t worried at all,” said Christian Leon, co-chairman of the group Rise Above Plastics, which was active in the St. Petersburg effort. “We have absolutely nothing to worry about.”

Tampa’s proposal is deliberately crafted to be modest and avoid a direct confrontation with the state, which has preempted many local initiatives in recent years, said council member Guido Maniscalco, who has spearheaded the effort.

For instance, his proposal wouldn’t include straws and wouldn’t apply to the private sector like St. Petersburg’s ordinance does, he said. It would apply to items like Styrofoam food containers and plastic bags on city-owned property.

But Mayor Jane Castor said she’s worried about “unintended consequences” of a plastics ban.

“You have to consider the ramifications of that. The business implications. The economic implications. So it would be something that I would have to look into what those ramifications are ... you know, the unintended consequences, before I supported a single-use plastics ban,” Castor said in an interview Wednesday.

Maniscalco said he understood Castor was trying to get state grants from Tallahassee and didn’t want to complicate the mayor’s efforts, but he didn’t want to delay any further.

“I think this is noble, worthy and long overdue,” he said.

His colleagues agreed, joining him in instructing city attorneys to bring a draft ordinance back to them on March 5.

McLean and deputy city attorney Andrea Zelman had suggested waiting until the Legislative session ended and more clarity emerged on the lawsuits.

The issue of home rule — local government control over issues like plastic bans — hovered over the discussion. In past years, the state has eviscerated Tampa’s tree ordinance, control over the placement of 5G wireless technology and other city initiatives.

“It’s time that the city of Tampa does take charge,” said council member Joseph Citro.

Council member John Dingfelder, who has advocated for Tampa Bay governments to band together to protest state preemption, gave a harsh critique of state lawmakers’ motives and those of the retail industry, which has fought bans around the state.

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Effectively, they buy the votes and then they preempt our ability to enact common sense local ordinances. Tallahassee is asleep at the wheel and is being bought by a lot of those businesses,” Dingfelder said.

With a ban on single-use plastics on city-owned land, Tampa would be a better steward of the environment during big-ticket events like next year’s Super Bowl and the annual Gasparilla celebrations.

“We’ll at least have a little more control on our own property," Dingfelder said.