Stuart and Martin County ready to reduce plastics; school district continues to evaluate – TCPalm

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MARTIN COUNTY — As the push to reduce single-use plastics takes shape in Stuart with a straw ban and gains momentum in Martin County with a more off-hands, business-centric approach, eyes are shifting to how the Martin County School District will address its plastics footprint.  

Representatives of the three local governments plan to meet in January to discuss potential policies for the region, but it will come on the heels of the School Board’s reluctance to immediately support the voluntary reduction of plastics - a proposal more political than practical - until it had more time to study its own systems. 

“We need to get a handle with facilities and through our food services to be able to say what products are used on campus and what kind of stuff are we talking about,” Superintendent Laurie Gaylord said recently, “and obviously the impact to students.”

Last month, the day after Stuart City Commission passed a long-anticipated ban on plastic straws, along with a ban on single-use plastics on city-owned property, city officials met with county and school district officials for a regularly scheduled joint meeting. On the agenda was a discussion on plastics. 

When the topic came up, Martin County officials quickly proposed a resolution for a voluntary reduction in single-use plastics. The resolution, officials suggested, was in the spirit of collaboration, and could help set the tenor for the January meeting.

“You guys have taken the lead on this initiative,” County Commission Chairman Ed Ciampi said to Stuart officials. Martin County has been considering a rewards-style program to encourage businesses toward more green approaches.

“Any step to help this effort is a good step forward,” responded City Commissioner Merritt Matheson, the lead on plastic legislation for the city. 

More: Stuart passes first plastic straw ban on the Treasure Coast

Opinion: Stuart plastic straw ban won’t save the world, but it’s a key first step | Trending

Attention then turned to the schools. 

“We’re leaving this earth to them,” Ciampi said, said referring to today’s students. “They’re probably the leaders in this motion more than the grown-ups.”

School officials pushed back. They first debated process: Without seeing a resolution ahead of time, they argued, they couldn’t agree to anything on the spot.

“Just say today we are going to continue to work collaboratively to get something in place,” Stuart Vice Mayor Eula Clarke said. “It would be a good effort.”  

The School Board then questioned the optics of the voluntary, non-binding resolution. 

“Obviously we support a reduction in single-use plastics,” Chairwoman Christia Li Roberts said after the meeting. “But at the same time you don’t want somebody standing there with a plastic straw and saying, ‘How can you support this and give us a plastic straw?’” 

It’s rare to see South Florida school districts budge on the issue of plastics, said Catherine Uden, South Florida campaign organizer for Oceana, a Florida-based group that has been lobbying municipalities to reduce the use of plastics. This comes despite students often being some of the most vocal critics of plastics and their contribution to climate change.

In Florida, 25 cities, including Stuart, have adopted plastic straw bans, according to Uden. Twelve cities have plastics-related bans, some of which include banning straws. Five cities had bans on plastic bags on plastic foam, but have rescinded them during ongoing litigation, which has pitted the city of Coral Gables against the Florida retail lobby. 

Uden, though, couldn’t recall any Florida school districts that have taken similar strong stances on plastics. 

“A lot of waste can be cut down in school systems, for sure,” Uden said.

If schools can help change the habits of students at a young age, she noted, it’s a habit that could stay with them. 

Staff writer Sommer Brugal contributed to this report. 

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