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Florida Ag commissioner moves to ban polystyrene packaging

Sarasota, Fla. – Today, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried announced that the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has begun rulemaking to phase out the use of polystyrene products in Florida grocery stores, markets, convenience stores, and other regulated businesses. Commissioner Fried announced the major consumer and environmental policy initiative at a press conference in Sarasota, joined by Nicole de Venoge, Florida Policy Manager at the Surfrider Foundation; Hunter Miller, Florida Gulf Coast Field Representative at Oceana; and Justin Bloom, Founder of Suncoast Waterkeeper. The press conference was preceded by a beach cleanup, in which Commissioner Fried joined a dozen volunteers in collecting trash on Siesta Beach.

For 100 years, polystyrene food packaging products – like Styrofoam cups, plates, and to-go boxes – have been inexpensive and widely available; however, studies have shown that chemicals within polystyrene foam may be linked to cancer, vision and hearing loss, birth defects, respiratory irritation, and damage to the liver, kidneys, and spleen, among other health effects, as well as serious, long-lasting environmental and animal health effects.

WATCH: Commissioner Nikki Fried is joined by the Surfrider Foundation, Oceana, and Suncoast Waterkeeper to announce the department has begun rulemaking to phase out the use of polystyrene products like Styrofoam at grocery stores, markets, and convenience stores across Florida.

“Polystyrene may be convenient, but there is a hidden danger to public health from these disposable consumer products. Chemicals in polystyrene are not only linked to human and animal health concerns, but because these petroleum-based products take at least 500 years to decompose, their negative effects continue long after they’re thrown away,” said Commissioner Fried. “As Florida’s consumer protection and food safety agency, we have an opportunity to help consumers and companies make a positive change. That’s why I’m excited to announce that we have started the rulemaking process to phase out the use of polystyrene food packaging at the 40,000 grocery stores, markets, and convenience stores that we regulate in Florida. By increasing demand for cost-effective alternative products, this is a huge opportunity to create Florida jobs, at Florida businesses, using Florida-grown crops to create next-generation products that are made in Florida. This vision to phase out polystyrene until reaching zero within this decade is a monumental change for consumers, health, and the environment, joining a third of U.S. states in taking action on this issue.”

“Today, I am so happy to see the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services working toward the adoption of rules to begin to phase out polystyrene foodware in grocery and convenience stores across our state. From polystyrene to straws and other litter regulations, the consumers in Florida are focused on our marine environment. They are demanding a shift in rules, products used, and extended producer responsibilities as part of our resiliency and sustainability plans into our future,” said Nicole de Venoge, Florida Policy Manager at the Surfrider Foundation. “The truth is we have an obligation and a responsibility to take on this opportunity, to think long-term by balancing our economic growth with our ecological sustainable products. At almost 22 million residents here in the state of Florida, we hope these rules are a step towards a commitment to Florida communities and a future where our most valuable resources are protected for future generations.”

“The Gulf Coast is facing a lot of challenges, but plastic pollution continues to be a growing threat. Polystyrene in particular is problematic because it breaks down into microplastics at an alarmingly fast rate,” said Hunter Miller, Florida Gulf Coast Field Representative at Oceana. “We know that polystyrene is polluting our beaches, our environment, and our oceans, but it’s also known to be toxic to humans. With that knowledge, we’ve seen cities, states, and even entire countries phasing out polystyrene, so I want to say thank you to the Commissioner and FDACS for initiating this rulemaking change. It’s past time that Floridians don’t have to deal with this polystyrene that’s polluting our water and bodies.”

“Our economy relies on a healthy environment. Steps like these are bold, creative, and much-needed,” said Justin Bloom, Founder of Suncoast Waterkeeper. “I think there’s a thirst in our community and other communities for actions like this. We’re limited by a legislature that is arguably captured by polluters and industry, and it won’t allow communities to embrace protective efforts to ban polystyrene. So thank you, Commissioner Fried, for your leadership to find ways to protect our communities.”

Background: Expanded polystyrene foam (EPS or polystyrene), commonly known as Styrofoam, is widely used as a cost-effective food packaging solution. Studies have shown that polystyrene is linked to serious health conditions by leaching into food and beverages, never fully disappears[ application/pdf ] from marine environments, and takes at least 500 years to decompose in landfills, where it comprises 30 percent of trash. Six U.S. states and cities in 13 states have enacted bans on polystyrene, encouraging the use of readily-available alternative packaging. Alternative sources of packaging include hemp fibers and sugarcane bagasse[ application/pdf ], both of which are grown in Florida.

Department Action: The department’s draft rule, 5K-4.045, would begin a multi-year phase-out of polystyrene packaging beginning in 2022, with a maximum allowable amount of polystyrene to be sold or distributed decreasing each year. The draft rule would also require regulated entities to file an annual report of the amount of polystyrene sold or distributed that year. The department is currently undergoing the rulemaking process, to include workshops and public comment periods. The rule would be established and enforced through the department’s statutory authority, Chapter 500.90, Florida Statutes.