A Gainesville city commissioner’s yearlong push to reduce waste across the city appears to be nearing an end.
Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos has throughout 2018 driven the effort for “zero waste” Gainesville. Hayes-Santos spoke at the Dec. 6 meeting that concluded with a unanimous vote to put a styrofoam and plastic bag ban to the first of two city commission votes on Jan. 3.
The Dec. 6 meeting came a year to the day after WUFT’s original report on Hayes-Santos’ vision.
And back in March, the city commission made its first step toward implementing a citywide zero waste policy. That day, Mayor Lauren Poe took to Facebook to share his excitement and add his insight into the plan.
“This action includes engaging our public and business community, working with our many community stakeholders to better measure and avoid waste streams, working to offer incentives and alternatives to wasteful consumption and to work on an ordinance to ban single-use plastic bags and Styrofoam,” he wrote.
By agreeing to the zero-waste initiative, the city made a commitment to improving the environment. One of its most recent actions was the Oct. 24 groundbreaking of the Eco-Industrial Park on Northeast 63rd Avenue.
But it is the ban on single-use plastic bags and Styrofoam that could alter the environment and business landscape in 2019 and beyond.
A section in the ordinance that would have granted a hardship exemption to businesses that earn less than $500,000 annually was struck from Commissioner Hayes-Santos’ draft. He said he was in support of the exemption at first, but didn’t think it’s needed now.
Commissioner Gigi Simmons pushed for the section to be kept in the ordinance, and Commissioner Helen Warren supported it.
“I think zero waste is great,” Simmons said. “But my concern has always been financial hardship of those small businesses that might find it difficult to transition.”
Alyssa Brown, a Chamber of Commerce spokeswoman said smaller members of the business community expressed concern about the overall cost.
“They support the ordinance and they want to make a difference. They just want to solve the problem in a way that doesn’t cause them to have to close,” she said.
The commission agreed to revisit the hardship exemption during the first meeting in March 2019, allowing enough time for businesses to come forward who are concerned about the effect the ban will have on their balance sheets. The ban, if commissioners approve the ordinance during its first and second readings, would take effect in August 2019.
One group that worked closely with the city commission is Zero Waste Gainesville, a community group advocating for zero-waste city policies.
Founder Nina Bhattacharyya created the group in 2017 because of her passion for the environment and education on sustainable resources.
Bhattacharyya said she and the rest of Zero Waste met with the commissioners to discuss what they would like to see take effect in both the city and county.
“When we met with commissioners, we brought ideas to what should be in the plan. We would love to see composting be placed in the ordinances,” she said.
One of the local groups that Zero Waste supports is the Sea Turtle Conservancy, which advocates for the reducing plastic and pollution that affects marine life.
Lexie Beach, 28, Sea Turtle Conservancy spokeswoman, said the organization has been involved in banning or charging for use of single-use plastic bags in local businesses.
She said the initiative could be especially successful because of students who don’t want to pay extra or waste products.