Coral Gables votes to ban plastic bags — a first in Florida

Plastic bag use in stores could soon be a thing of the past in Coral Gables after the city commission on Tuesday gave initial approval to an ordinance banning the products.

The measure will require a second vote to become law, which will likely come at the March 28 meeting. The action sets the city up to be the first municipality in Florida to ban plastic bag use.

Although the proposal drew a crowd of supporters, it also had some opponents — or at least people who asked the commission to delay action.

The ordinance will prohibit plastic bag use by retailers in Coral Gables and at city special events. The ordinance does provide for exceptions including: plastic bags that the shopper provides, plastic bags without handles, bags used to hold prescription medicines at a pharmacy or veterinarian’s office, dry cleaning bags, pet waste bags, yard waste or trash bags and newspaper bags.

Violators would be warned first, but then could be fined, starting at $50 and increasing to $500 after a third violation in a one-year period.

The item also encourages businesses to promote the use of reusable bags and gives retailers the option to provide reusable or paper bags for a fee of at least 10 cents.

Supporters and members of environmental groups, including the Surfrider Foundation, Debris Free Oceans, and Miami Waterkeeper, packed the commission chambers to voice their support.

“I’m really excited that you guys are taking this on, it’s like a dream come true,” said Michael DeFilippi, an activist who organizes cleanups and advocated for the Styrofoam ban in Miami Beach. “What you’re doing here is going to have an influence around the state of Florida.”

One of the attendees, Mike Gibaldi, came dressed as a “bag monster,” wearing an outfit covered in plastic bags.

The ban follows a court ruling upholding the city’s Styrofoam ban in a lawsuit brought by the Florida Retail Federation. The federation sued the city last July on behalf of its members including Super Progreso, a company that owns a 7-Eleven franchise in the Gables, after the commission gave final approval to the ban in February 2016. The federation has appealed the judge’s decision to the Third District Court of Appeal.

Josie Correa, regional director of the federation’s Miami office, said that the city should hold off on the plastic bag ban until the lawsuit over the Styrofoam ban is fully resolved.

“This is an important issue that deserves full and complete vetting,” Correa said before the vote. “To rush through it would be a disservice to the local business community.”

As with the Styrofoam ban, city leaders met with members of the chamber of commerce and business improvement district to discuss a ban on plastic bags.

Chamber president Mark Trowbridge said that, unlike with the Styrofoam ban, some business owners have expressed hesitation or concern about the plastic-bag ban. The city said it will be sure to schedule additional meetings with those businesses, particularly the merchants along Miracle Mile and Giralda Avenue, and will provide a list of paper and alternative bag manufacturers.

“We have a great business climate and I’d never want there to be anything that would take away from that,” Trowbridge said.

The ordinance also sets up a six-month window, after final adoption, before any fines would be levied.

“We have to be more conscious of the environment,” said Commissioner Vince Lago, who sponsored the item. “I feel that we can co-exist and I think the business community can adapt.”

Palm Beach County, Jacksonville Beach and other cities have sponsored resolutions in support of plastic bag bans and officials including state Rep. David Richardson, D-Miami Beach, have sponsored legislation calling for a ban in select areas of the state.

Plastic bags were banned across California last year, and other cities including Seattle and Austin, Texas, have also prohibited their use.