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Gainesville Bans Expanded Polystyrene, Certain Plastic Bags As Of August 2019

Gainesville City Commission’s final approval of the single-use plastic bags and expanded polystyrene ban took place Thursday night.

For the last year, Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos has spearheaded the movement.

“We need to protect our environment for future generations,” he said.

Small businesses around Gainesville have both mentally and literally prepared for this change.

Andrea Arredondo, a 23-year-old cashier at La Tienda, said she thinks the change will be great for the Mexican restaurant. She suggested that the restaurant could start using organic bags or ceramic plates for their customers to be more sustainable.

“We give a lot of plastic every day,” she said. “So, I think reducing in here will really make a difference.”

However, the ban on Styrofoam might prove to be more difficult than that on plastic.

“As far as the plastic bags, I think that’s going to be a pretty easy transition,” said Danielle Ward, the store manager of Ward’s Supermarket. “It’s an easy fix for us.”

“Unfortunately, as far as our Styrofoam, that might make it a little more difficult,” she said. “We’re going to have to really think on exactly what we want to do.”

The new ordinance describes what Ward refers to as Styrofoam as expanded polystyrene, as Styrofoam is technically a proprietary name for a type of polystyrene foam product. Ward’s Supermarket is prepared in their produce department for this change. They are ready to use recyclable materials. But Ward said their deli will face a challenge.

“I don’t know what we’re going to use as something different than Styrofoam,” she said. “But we’ll definitely look into that and see what alternatives there are out there.”

Ward encouraged her customers to start becoming used to not using plastic for shopping. She said it would be wise for her them to start to transition now.

Her cousin, Milan Mixton, the assistant manager of the Natural Foods Department, said the family-owned business is excited for this change. They will have to do research on new alternatives, but their produce section is already using decomposable, cardboard-based materials for their organic products.

Last December, Commissioners Gigi Simmons and Helen Warren spoke in defense of small businesses finding it difficult to transition to new materials.

In the original draft of the ordinance, Commissioner Hayes-Santos introduced a hardship exemption that would allow businesses who make less than $500,000 annually to opt out of the ban. In December, he claimed that he didn’t think it was still necessary.

A separate vote to keep the exemption in the ordinance has been set to the first meeting in March.

In regards to Ward’s Supermarket, Mixton said it’s possible there will be a small price increase for their supplies, but she’s sure it’s something they will be able to absorb.

“It’s not like we’re the only store that will be dealing with that increase,” she said. “I think it will be minimal because alternate materials have been on the market for quite a while now, nationally. So, I think prices are starting to come down on those things.”

She predicts it will not financially impact the supermarket’s customers.

Both plastic newspaper holders and grocery story bags for fruits and vegetables are two exemptions from the ban.

According to Hayes-Santos, the city will be partnering with multiple nonprofit groups to help educate citizens and consumers. These will include the Chamber of Commerce, Zero Waste Gainesville, Keep Alachua Beautiful and the local Girl Scouts Troop.

The city commission unanimously passed the ordinance to ban. Gainesville is now the second city in Florida to do this — the first being Coral Gables. Gainesville's ban takes effect Aug. 1.

Clarification appended: A previous version of this story described the ordinance as banning Styrofoam, which is technically incorrect based on the ordinance language.

Madison is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 954-547-5167 or emailing mcsgator@ufl.edu.