Florida's agriculture and consumer protection commissioner is calling for a statewide phaseout of polystyrene packaging in grocery stores and other businesses that her office regulates.
Agriculture Commissioner Nicole Fried, the only Democrat among the state's five top elected officials, unveiled a plan Sept. 24 for a new regulation that would gradually phase out PS packaging in food businesses by 2028.
"Polystyrene may be convenient, but there is a hidden danger to public health from these disposable consumer products," Fried said. "I'm excited to announce that we have started the rule-making 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."
Fried made the announcement at a news conference with three environmental groups at a beachfront boardwalk in Sarasota, Fla., and said her office, the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, has begun a formal rule-making that will include workshops and public comments.
A draft proposal would require those businesses to report, by Dec. 31, the amount of PS packaging they used in the year, and then begin reducing it annually, starting with a 10 percent cut in 2023.
That would grow to a 20 percent reduction in 2024, 30 percent in 2025, and then jump to an 85 percent cut in 2026 and 100 percent in 2028.
"The final details will evolve as we hear from businesses, experts and of course the public," Fried said at the news conference. "This is a monumental change for customers, consumers, health and the environment."
Fried said six states and 13 U.S. cities have banned some kinds of PS packaging.
Justin Bloom, the executive director of Sarasota-based Suncoast Waterkeeper, called the proposal a "creative" way to get around legislative roadblocks, like a statewide ban on local governments passing their own local plastic packaging ordinances, a policy known as preemption.
"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," Bloom said.
He spoke at the news conference, along with representatives from the Surfrider Foundation and Oceana.
Fried and the environmental groups pointed to what they said are health concerns around styrene and chemicals leaking from polystyrene, as well as concerns about litter and microplastic pollution from expanded polystyrene foam breaking up in the environment.
Nicole de Venoge, Florida policy manager with the Surfrider Foundation, said it's important to Florida's tourism economy to protect its environment from litter and pollution.
"Here in Florida, more than 20 municipalities have already passed some of these ordinances on polystyrene foam and they've developed purchasing policies to avoid all EPS to protect our greatest asset here in Florida, our blue economy," she said.
The American Chemistry Council said it opposed Fried's proposal and said the Food and Drug Administration has said for decades that polystyrene is safe in food packaging.
"The American Chemistry Council opposes this rule-making," it said. "Polystyrene has been certified safe for consumer use by the FDA for over 50 years. Banning polystyrene will incentivize the use of alternative materials that leave a larger environmental footprint while not meaningfully addressing the issue of plastic waste in the environment."