Styrofoam Ban Fails

In a Blow to Home Rule, the State Supreme Court Sides with Retailers. But the Gables Will Not Surrender Just Yet

March 2020

In what was arguably the biggest story of the past month, the Florida Supreme Court declined to take up the city’s appeal to reverse a ruling that prevented Coral Gables from banning the use of Styrofoam food containers. The ruling lets stand a decision last year by the 3rd District Court of Appeals to uphold the constitutionality of a state law, which takes away the ability of Florida cities to ban polystyrene, better known by the brand name Styrofoam.

Coral Gables voted to ban the use of Styrofoam for food containers in 2018, since the material is not biodegradable and presents a threat to the environment. The Florida Retail Federation and Super Progreso, Inc. filed a lawsuit challenging the ordinance’s legality. According to state law, municipalities cannot control retail packaging within their boundaries.

Why this is a big deal is not just about returning the city to an environmentally unfriendly practice. It is a question of home rule, and of the ability of cities to protect the health and well-being of their citizens. In effect, the power of such regulation is now in the hands of state legislators, who are frequently beholden to the corporations that fund their campaigns.

City officials are not giving up, however. “The judicial struggle is over, but I refuse to say that the struggle is over,” says Coral Gables City Attorney Miriam Ramos. “We have this now as part of our legislative agenda, a priority to move [state] legislators to get rid of these statutes.”

There is also community support for the ban. “We are encouraging businesses to do this voluntarily,” says Ramos. “It took so long to resolve this that people came into line, into compliance. We hope they don’t go back to their old ways.”

The city will be exploring incentives to encourage businesses to continue a voluntary Styrofoam ban. It will also continue its own practice of not buying Styrofoam or using plastic bags and will require contractors with the city – and those who want special events permits – to do the same.