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Tampa starting to take a stand against single-use plastics

by Mallory Culhane

The Tampa City Council is drafting an ordinance to ban single-use plastics on city owned property that could be implemented and in effect by mid-summer.

“I think it’s us setting a good example to the rest of the city that, it’s not solving everything but we’re trying,” said Tampa City Councilman Guido Maniscalco. “You see these pictures of all the plastic floating in the ocean and it’s going to outlive us – that plastic from that soda we had, is there.” 

The ordinance will ban all single-use plastics such as plastic straws, styrofoam containers and plastic bags from being on city-owned property. This means if an event is being held in a public park, like Curtis Hixon, no single-use plastics are allowed to be sold at the event.

This way, the city does not impose it on private companies and businesses.

“It’s not like Oxford Exchange has to change or Publix has to go to brown paper bags,” said Maniscalco. “The whole point is, the city is doing it, so maybe we should too.”

Several cities across Florida have started a fight against plastics. In October, Orlando banned single-use plastics on businesses operating on city owned property; several businesses still adopted the policy even if they didn’t fall under the geographic location. The same is for St. Petersburg, who banned plastic straws at the start of this year across the whole city.

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, however, has some concerns.

Castor was quoted by the Tampa Bay Times earlier this month saying, “you have to consider the ramifications of [a single-use plastic ban]. The business implications. The economics implications. So, it would be something that I would have to look into what those ramifications are…you know, the unintended consequences.”

Despite this, Maniscalco said the council believes that Castor will be more on board once the ordinance is written and the process picks up.

“I don’t think that she’s against it, I think that she’s just very careful,” said Maniscalco.

Florida is not the only state in the country where municipalities are looking at a ban on plastics. As the severity of climate change progresses and public pressure on governments to do something about it have caused an uptick in movements to decrease plastic use, most popularly, the use of plastic straws. Many businesses have chosen to ban plastic straws and use paper straws. However there is still an environmental impact. 

“Paper is certainly better because it’s biodegradable, but at the same time you’re still using something that isn’t needed,” said Jessa Madosky, professor of instruction I of biology. “To-go containers and plastic bags are a bigger problem than plastic straws; I think it’s great that people are trying to get rid of [plastic straws], but we need to not get distracted from the bigger picture.”

 Plastic pollution in the ocean also is not anything new. Plastics have been found in the stomachs of sea birds since the 1960s, according to a report published last year by the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL).

 From 1950 to 2015, of the 8.3 billion tons of plastic produced globally, less than 6% has been recycled and 4.6 billion tons were discarded after just one use, according to Reuters.  

Plastics are polluting waterways and land break down from weathering and erosion to form small particles known as microplastics. Though the particles are small, they hold serious risk not just to marine life, but to humans as well due to plastic’s ability to absorb toxins. The toxins can then bioaccumulate up the food chain, making it into our widely consumed seafood.

 “When we use a body wash [that contains microplastics], the microplastics end up in the drain, and municipal water treatment plants don’t filter them out, they’re just way too tiny, so they end up in our waterways,” said Madosky. “Before they end up in our waterways they go through our sewer systems and they’re exposed to a lot of different chemicals and plastics actually absorb chemicals.”

 In August last year, the University of South Florida (USF) published a study on marine pollution in the Tampa Bay area; the study specifically focused on microplastic pollution.

 In the study, 24 locations across Tampa Bay were used as sampling sites. Many were in the bay itself and some locations lied in tributaries and rivers that lead into the bay.  

 Out of all the sampling sites, the Ybor Channel, which is adjacent to downtown Tampa, had the highest average concentration of microplastics in samples: about 790 particles per kilogram. Collectively, the study found that there are roughly 4 billion particles of microplastics in the Tampa Bay area.

 The number of microplastics in the Tampa Bay area, though staggering, is likely less than the actual number of microplastics in the water, Henry Alegria, associate professor of chemistry at USF and contributor to the study, said in an email. Though high, microplastics are found in high numbers in many locations in the world; the number of microplastics found in Tampa Bay is consistent with what has been reported in other urban bay areas, according to Alegria.

 “They’ve found microplastics in snow in the arctic, they’ve found microplastics in the Mariana trench, they’ve found microplastics in bottled water, so they’re kind of everywhere,” said Madosky. 

 Though environmental effects cannot be reversed per se, Maniscalco is hopeful that if the city bans single-use plastics on their property, other businesses and municipalities may follow, causing a bigger change.

 “Fifty years ago, we didn’t have single-use plastics, it was like a brown paper bag…I look at a lot of old pictures and you don’t see plastic, you see things that are biodegradable,” said Maniscalco. “We existed for so long without [plastic], why can’t we go back to that? Especially since we see the harm that it does for the environment.”

Mallory Culhane can be reached at mallory.culhane@theminaretonline.com

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