Florida Tech Ph.D. Candidate Rachel Sales Looking to Address Plastic Pollution Issue in Brevard Waterways

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plastic water bottles and toothbrushes, can take more than 400 years to decompose

Rachel Sales, a Ph.D. candidate at the Florida Institute of Technology, said growing up in firmly landlocked Ohio made a day at the beach a special event. (Florida Tech image)

EDITOR’S NOTE: Rachel Sales is a Ph.D. candidate at the Florida Institute of Technology. She currently studies the history of the cloud forests in Ecuador and Peru. Originally from Ohio, she is now most at home walking through the Floridian forests or enjoying a book at the beach. She is passionate about science communication and conservation. Her op-ed below addresses the effects of plastics on Melbourne Beach and the local economy.

I urge Representative Thad Altman and Senator Debbie Mayfield to co-sponsor HB 6027 and SB 594 and eliminate the preemptions of local laws as it relates to plastic bags and polystyrene products.

BREVARD COUNTY • MELBOURNE, FLORIDA – Growing up in firmly landlocked Ohio, a day at the beach was a special event.

My family was the one that arrived in Florida on a chilly 50°F day and still declared that it was a nice day for the beach.

As children, my brother and I would dare each other to build sandcastles closer and closer to the surf, until the waves eventually washed them away.

As an adult, I still love a beach day, and for me, that usually takes place at Melbourne Beach. However, instead of building sandcastles, my beach days today often consist of picking up plastic litter.

Banning single-use plastic in Florida could help reduce the amount of physical plastic waste and carbon dioxide we generate.

Some plastics, such as plastic water bottles and toothbrushes, can take over 400 years to decompose. Along the way, these plastics break apart into almost microscopic pieces and have been found from the deepest part of the ocean to some of the highest mountains.

These microplastic pieces often wash up on beaches, degrading the beach, harming wildlife, and making them less desirable for tourists to visit.

Plastic also has a “hidden” cost, as it generates greenhouse gases when it is produced.

An estimated 12.5–13.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide are produced in the process of making and transporting plastics, which exacerbates climate change.

In the United States, plastic bags alone require 12 million barrels of crude oil to create.

Keeping our beaches healthy is important in Melbourne and across the state as these natural treasures generate income for local communities.

For instance, tourism in 2018 contributed $91.4 billion to the Florida Gross State Product. Plastic waste, however, threatens our tourism industry, economy, and the health of our beaches.

Plastic retail/grocery bags are harmful in countless ways to the environment and for wildlife. This truth became up close and personal recently at the City of Melbourne’s public works complex on Harper Road. (City of Melbourne image)

The towns of Melbourne Beach, Indialantic, and Satellite Beach have worked to address the threat of plastic waste by adopting resolutions reducing plastic waste. Although not enforceable laws, these resolutions indicate that local communities understand the threats of plastic pollution and are working to prevent it.

Legislation, however, would allow local governments to adopt ordinances and regulations to actually address and enforce plastic pollution issues.

In Melbourne, we can follow the example of our neighboring towns, and support legislation allowing local governments to adopt ordinances and regulations to address and enforce plastic pollution issues, but we can only do this if state preemptions on plastics are removed.

I urge Representative Thad Altman and Senator Debbie Mayfield to co-sponsor HB 6027 and SB 594 and eliminate the preemptions of local laws as it relates to plastic bags and polystyrene products.

Florida beaches need to be protected from both physical plastic waste and from greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. If HB 6027 and SB 594 are passed, we will have a chance to decide how we should combat plastic waste in Melbourne and beyond, preserving our beaches for future families to enjoy.

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