City of Sarasota to eliminate use of plastic bags for yard waste collections, with first reading of ordinance approved this week

Public education campaign planned

In 2019, staff of the City of Sarasota offered these images to help the public discern the right and wrong ways to handle yard waste for collection at that time. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

On a 4-1 vote this week, the Sarasota City Commission approved the elimination of the use of plastic bags for yard waste collections, with the city’s Solid Waste Division staff planning months of educational outreach before the measure goes into effect.

Commissioner Erik Arroyo cast the “No” vote after the April 15 public hearing. “When we do things like this,” he said, “we are eliminating the entire argument that we provide a higher level of service.”

A second reading of the ordinance will be necessary before the ordinance is final. That is scheduled for the board’s regular meeting on Monday, May 6, Jan Thornburg, general manager of the city’s Communications Department, told The Sarasota News Leader in an April 17 email. The item will be scheduled under Unfinished Business, she added.

During the commission’s regular meeting on April 15, Doug Jeffcoat, director of the city’s Public Works Department, explained that the city’s contractor had informed staff that it no longer would accept yard waste in plastic bags. That is related to the fact that plastic contamination makes it impossible for the yard waste to be turned into mulch, Jeffcoat indicated.

He and his staff worked with a consultant to try to find another company in the region that would accept plastic bags, Jeffcoat pointed out, but they were unable to locate one.

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

Doug Jeffcoat addresses the city commissioners on April 15. News Leader image

The Agenda Request Form for the item further noted, “[T]hrough various site visits throughout the City and discussions with our yard waste collection drivers, [staff had learned that] a majority of City residents are using other means than plastic bags to contain their yard waste for collection.”

The form added that city customers still would be able to put their yard waste in 32-gallon reusable containers and paper bags, and they would maintain the option of using “natural fiber twine” to bundle yard waste segments — such as tree branches — that are no longer than 4 feet for curbside disposal, as long as the bundles weigh no more than 50 pounds each.

Even after the ordinance goes into effect, the form continued, “[R]esidents who don’t properly prepare their yard waste, including the use of plastic bags … can have those items collected” by paying a special fee.

As for the educational efforts related to the change: The form explained that members of the Solid Waste staff will attend “various neighborhood association meetings,” as well as a session of the Coalition of City Neighborhood Associations (CCNA), to inform the public. Staff also will provide educational information on the city’s social media accounts and “through driver interactions with their residential customers.”

Only one member of the public had signed up to address the commissioners during the April 15 public hearing. Mary Ciner, a city resident, applauded the recommendation that Jeffcoat and his staff had made. She added that she recalled Vice Mayor Jen Ahearn-Koch’s remarking on the Sarasota County Commission’s implementation of such an ordinance.

In November 2022, the County Commission approved its ordinance on a 4-1 vote, with then-Commissioner Christian Ziegler in the minority. The prohibition on plastic bag use went into effect on May 1, 2023, following an extensive educational campaign for residents in the unincorporated areas of the county.

Ciner said she hoped that the next time a similar county initiative was implemented, the City Commission would pursue it then, instead of waiting.

Commissioner Debbie Trice did commend Jeffcoat for staff’s plans for educational outreach. Then Trice asked about the call for using “natural twine fiber” to bind yard waste. That was not addressed in the ordinance, she noted.

The use of twine facilitates decomposition of the yard waste that the city contractor collects, he explained. The public outreach will include education about that, he added.

Commissioner Erik Arroyo. File image

During the discussion, Arroyo asked about options other than eliminating the use of plastic bags. “This company’s willing to lose our business because of that?”

Jeffcoat replied that stopping the use of the plastic bags also will reduce the city’s expenses for yard waste collections. Last year, the estimate, he said, was a savings of about $4.50 per ton.

When Arroyo asked how many tons the city collects a year, Jeffcoat said that he expected the city would save approximately $15,000 a year.

In advance of the November 2022 County Commission vote, Brian Usher, director of the county’s Solid Waste Department, pointed out that the county shouldered an extra expense of more than $300,000 in the 2022 fiscal year for manual labor to tear open plastic bags with yard waste, so the bags would not end up in the landfill.

Moreover, Jeffcoat explained to the City Commission on April 15, the company the city has been using — Veransa — had been the only firm to bid on the city contract because the city still allowed the use of plastic bags. Eliminating those bags should bring more competition to the solicitation process, he pointed out.

When Arroyo asked 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 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.”

Trice ended up making the motion to approve the ordinance on first reading, and Vice Mayor Ahearn-Koch seconded it.

Leave a Comment