Orlando bans single-use plastics, foam on city properties

By : Jeremy Williams
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ORLANDO | Former Orange County Soil & Water Conservation District Supervisor and environmental activist Eric Rollings says he was beside himself with joy when the Orlando City Commission voted unanimously to ban plastic straws, plastic bags and polystyrene single-use containers in the city of Orlando on all its properties.

“I was just one giant goosebump seeing it actually happen,” Rollings says with a smile.

The vote came at a packed city council meeting June 3.

“The people that came out to support and speak, it was really moving,” Rollings says. “There were kids who showed up to say this is our future, thank you for thinking of us. We had 40 people there, all with the same shirt on, showing solidarity in wanting this passed. We even had folks from Come Out With Pride there, and they have one of the largest events at Lake Eola, on board with this initiative.”

While some cities have banned some of these products, Rollings says Orlando is the first city in the southeastern United States to pass a policy and procedure to ban all three, something he says is vital to do if we are going to positively impact the local environment.

“We’ve been doing lake clean ups for years and the top four things that fill up our bags are plastic bags, plastic straws, water bottles and foam products,” he says. “Orlando’s really great for all its outdoor activities and the volunteer commitment, but it’s really hard to get people out there at six o’clock in the morning if 60 days later when they go back out there it’s the same thing going on.”

Passing this ban for the betterment of a town calling itself “The City Beautiful” was also a key reason to vote yes for City Commissioner Patty Sheehan.

“I was embarrassed to see a few years ago that on Earth Day we covered Lake Eola Park on Earth Day in garbage, so I’m glad to see that we’re doing something about this,” said Sheehan the day of the vote, according to FOX35 Orlando.

The ban on city properties—which will apply to areas such as Lake Eola Park, Amway Arena and Camping World Stadium—is just the beginning, says Rollings, to stopping this problem. It’s an issue that he became personally invested in three years ago when he launched the “No Foam Zone” petition to ban foam containers in Central Florida.

“I remember going on a cleanup and someone picked up a turtle,” Rollings recalls. “The snail eggs they eat look just like these Styrofoam beads that are in the water, so they eat that and can’t pass it and become buoyant. When I got up close to the turtle, its back legs and tail were completely skeletal. That day we picked up over 60 bags worth of stuff coming off of Lake Ivanhoe, and that’s all the stuff that comes off the streets from downtown Orlando. It was awful. If we didn’t put these things in there in the first place then we wouldn’t have to be cleaning it up and the wildlife wouldn’t have access to it. A ban on these products is really the best option.”

The policy goes into effect Oct. 1. Plastic straws will still be available, by request only, for customers with disabilities.

Photo courtesy Eric Rollings.

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