Protecting Our Environment

In 2020, 7000 tons of plastics entered Florida’s waters.

Plastics are Dangerous to our Economy

Tourism would be 8.1% higher (an extra ~$7 billion/year in Florida), if plastic trash were eliminated from waterways and beaches, and 16-26% lower (a loss of ~$27 billion/year in Florida) if plastic trash were to double

Plastic Pollutants

We Can:

  • Protect Public Health From Dangerous Microplastics

  •  Preserve our Tourism, Agriculture, and Fishing Industries

  • Preserve our Animals

According to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, 93% of Floridians and 97% of local governments believe that regulating single-use plastics is necessary.[1] In 2020 alone, 7000 tons of plastics entered Florida’s waters.[2] Plastic waste in pollution is a huge problem as it is harming the health of Florida's people, environment, and economy. Limiting plastic pollution and holding corporations accountable for their plastic waste is the most effective way of tackling this issue.

Plastics can be incredibly harmful to human health. When plastics break down, they release tiny microplastics into the water that harm human cells[3] leading to oxidative stress, DNA damage, inflammation, and other health problems.[4] In 2019, scientists revealed that in Tampa Bay alone four billion microplastic particles are floating in the water and three trillion sitting at the bottom of the bay.[5] Those numbers are only going to get worse if we continue our plastic pollution.

Plastics not only have a massive impact on human health, but also on the health of our animals and environments. According to Oceana, a nonprofit ocean conservation organization, nearly 1,800 animals from 40 different species swallowed or became tangled in plastic along America’s coastlines between 2009 and 2020. Among the largest groups were manatees and sea turtles and nearly 80% of the animals in the report were listed as threatened or endangered. Florida had higher incidents of those animals dying or being injured from plastics than any other state.[6] Even if animals aren’t killed by the plastic, it can still be dangerous as the microplastics and plastic pollution inside them works its way up the food chain to the food that we eat.[7]


Plastic waste is also damaging to our economy. Tourism is the backbone of the Floridian economy and supports 1.5 million jobs for Florida citizens.[8] However, plastic pollution is causing damage to the Florida tourism industry by clogging waterways, polluting beaches, and killing off wildlife. An NOAA study of tourist attitudes shows that tourism would be 8.1% higher (an extra ~$7 billion/year in Florida), if plastic trash were eliminated from waterways and beaches, and 16-26% lower (a loss of ~$27 billion/year in Florida) if plastic trash were to double.[9] Plastic pollution also harms marine life and can lead to mass fish die-offs,[10] which could harm Florida’s 237 million dollar fishing industry.[11] Additionally, microplastics in water used in agriculture have been found to reduce soil fauna and fertility in land, a major concern for Florida’s $1 billion agriculture industry.[12]

[1]https://floridadep.gov/sites/default/files/FDEP%20Plastic%20Bag%20Report%20Final%20v4.pdf

[2]https://floridadep.gov/sites/default/files/FDEP%20Plastic%20Bag%20Report%20Final%20v4.pdf

[3] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0304389421028302?dgcid=author

[4]https://www.plastichealthcoalition.org/microplastics/#:~:text=Based%20on%20these%20type%20of,to%20very%20serious%20health%20problems

[5] https://spcampus.usf.edu/home/files/2019/09/Microplastics-in-Tampa-Bay.pdf

[6] https://usa.oceana.org/press-releases/oceana-finds-plastic-entangling-choking-1800-marine-animals-us-waters/

[7] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8704590/

[8] https://www.visitflorida.org/media/30679/florida-visitor-economic-impact-study.pdf

[9] The Economic Impacts of Marine Debris on Tourism-Dependent Communities. Marine Debris Program. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. July 2019.

[10] https://unctad.org/news/our-plastic-addiction-threatens-global-fish-stocks-qa-international-oceans-institute#:~:text=Rainwater%20also%20carries%20plastic%20into,harming%20fish%20and%20their%20habitats.

[11]  https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rspb.2020.1268

[12]https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2019/10/15/agriculture-sunshine-state#:~:text=The%202017%20Census%20of%20Agriculture%20shows%20that%20Florida%20ranked%20second,with%20sales%20totaling%20%24184%20million.

Education

So, What Can We Do?!

The Commissioner of Agriculture has the power to regulate which products businesses that fall under the purview of the department can use. In 2021, the department introduced new rules to phase out polystyrene (styrofoam) packaging products.[1] The Commissioner can not only keep the progress that has been made on reducing cancer-linked styrofoam packaging but also expand the rules to cover certain plastic single-use products, such as plastic straws. 

 

The Agricultural Commissioner can require that businesses regulated by the department submit reports on how much plastic packaging is used every year and then mandate that businesses reduce the amount incrementally each year by switching to biodegradable, safer alternative materials like paper, bamboo, and hemp. Industries like hemp production have great potential in Florida.[2] This move would create new sustainable jobs in these green fields. 

 

Action through the Agriculture Commissioner is one of the few ways that this problem can be tackled. Florida currently bans local municipalities from taking action to reduce certain single-use plastics, so regulation of plastics at the state level is key.[3] The Agricultural Commissioner is in a unique position to help tackle this vital issue.

 

The opposition may suggest that switching to a more environmentally friendly option would put undue financial burdens on those businesses which are currently using plastics. However, environmentally friendly packaging isn’t exponentially more expensive than plastic packing. Paper straws, for example, are only 2 cents more than plastic straws.[4] The amount of money we would save by improving the health of animals and humans, increasing soil fertility, and improving our tourism industry.

[1]  https://floridapolitics.com/archives/479113-nikki-fried-sending-polystyrene-rules-to-legislature/

[2]https://www.fdacs.gov/News-Events/Press-Releases/2021-Press-Releases/FDACS-Celebrates-One-Year-of-Florida-s-State-Hemp-Program-370-Million-in-Economic-Impact#:~:text=%E2%80%9CIn%20its%20first%20year%20alone,state%2C%20and%20local%20tax%20revenue.

[3] https://www.wmnf.org/report-shows-floridians-support-single-use-plastics-regulation/

[4] https://www.cnbc.com/2018/07/09/paper-straws-are-better-for-the-environment-but-they-will-cost-you.html