Ban of plastic yard-waste bags in city of Sarasota to go into effect July 1

City staff already conducting public outreach about change in city ordinance

This is a still showing portions of plastic bags peeking out of yard waste at the Seminole County landfill. Like other local governments, Seminole County has banned the use of plastic bags for yard waste. Image from Seminole County via Facebook

On the second and final reading this week, the Sarasota City Commission approved a staff proposal to eliminate the use of plastic bags for yard waste.

In response to a Sarasota News Leader inquiry, Jan Thornburg, general manager of the city’s Communications Department, wrote, with emphasis, in a May 7 email that the city’s “contractor will collect plastic bags until July 1.”

She added, with more emphasis, “That being said, we’re encouraging residents to comply now with the new ordinance. Community outreach efforts are underway and will continue. … Residents now have the option to place yard waste in paper bags, a container or box or bundles, which must meet size and weight requirements …”

She noted that the bundles cannot exceed 48 inches in length, and they cannot weigh more than 50 pounds. Paper bags, cans and boxes must contain 32 gallons or less, and they also cannot weigh more than 50 pounds when full, she wrote.

“Most residents within the Sarasota city limits already are using reusable containers or paper bags,” Thornburg pointed out.

During the City Commission’s regular meeting on May 6, Commissioner Erik Arroyo cast the solitary “No” vote, mirroring his action on April 15, after the first public hearing. During that initial hearing, Arroyo decried the plans, which he characterized as a reduction in service for city customers.

When Arroyo asked Public Works Director Doug Jeffcoat on April 15 whether the goal was to stop customers from using plastic bags for garbage, too, if the customers fill up their containers, Jeffcoat responded, “This is only yard waste.”

All residents have to use containers for their garbage, Jeffcoat pointed out. “That’s the way the ordinance has been.”

A Feb. 28 memo included in the April 15 agenda packet — from Deputy City Attorney Michael Connolly to Todd Kucharski, general manager of Public Services — noted, “The City is not required to collect improperly prepared yard waste or yard trash. Alternatively, if the City chose to collect the improperly prepared yard waste or yard trash, a special collection fee would be due.”

Doug Jeffcoat, director of the Public Works Department, addresses the city commissioners on April 15. File image

Jeffcoat did tell the commissioners on April 15 that city staff would conduct extensive outreach to the public, to try to ensure that all city residents are aware of the change when the ordinance goes into effect.

Moreover, Jeffcoat pointed out that the City of Sarasota is the only local government in the county that still allows its customers to use plastic bags for yard waste.

A News Leader scan for information on the internet this week about other local governments banning the use of plastic bags for yard waste found that such a measure has been implemented in jurisdictions across the country in recent years. The following is a sampling regarding those actions:

  • In a website message to its customers, the City of Fairfax, Va., wrote, “Prohibiting the use of plastic bags for yard waste reduces plastic pollution in the city. When yard waste is collected in plastic bags, shreds of plastic get mixed into the composting process. It is very difficult to entirely remove plastic shreds from the final product. Plastic in the compost, even in small amounts, reduces the quality of the compost and provides a pathway for the plastic to get into our environment. The shredded plastic bags become part of the compost that we use in our yards and gardens, and the micro-plastics can end up in local streams, negatively affecting water quality. City law changed in June 2021, and the city provided customers a nine-month transitional period.”
  • The City of Tampa prohibited the use of plastic bags for yard waste on Feb. 1 of this year. Among frequently asked questions on that city’s website, says, “Eliminating plastic bags from yard waste collection processes is best practice and it is now required for residents to use max 32-gallon reusable containers, biodegradable paper bags, or bundles with natural fiber jute twine for curbside disposal. The elimination of plastic bags from the yard waste stream helps support City of Tampa’s commitment to environmental stewardship by creating the potential for compostable material.”
  • The City of Louisville, Ky., implemented its ban on plastic bags for yard waste on Jan. 1, 2015.
  • The City of High Point, N.C., required its solid waste customers to cease using plastic bags for yard waste on July 1, 2023. The city noted the following in a news release about its action: “The use of plastic bags poses many issues to City collection and disposal staff and equipment, long-term viability and significant environmental impacts. By prohibiting plastic bags in yard waste, the Ingleside Compost Facility will be able to produce a zero-waste, completely organic, compost and topsoil for our residents and commercial users.”

In response to that decision, Yes! Weekly, a publication in the Triad of North Carolina — a 12-county area encompassing the cities of Greensboro, High Point and Winston-Salem — pointed out, “Paper bags save natural resources and energy while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It can take nearly 1,000 years for a plastic bag to decompose at a landfill, compared to the one month it takes for a paper bag.”