Catherine Uden, secretary for the Surfrider Foundation of Broward County, has spent much of the last month trying to stop an informal beach party. During “Floatopia” events, thousands of revelers take to the sea in inflatable tubes and proceed to drink heavily. After a Floatopia in Miami Beach last month, the sand was left littered with garbage and deflated rafts.
Uden and her group of surfers and environmentalists heard of a similar event being organized a few miles north in Hollywood Beach for May 30. They moved to prevent it. Along the way, her group noticed an old law nestled inside Hollywood, Florida’s Code of Ordinances.
It’s illegal for any restaurant east of the Intracoastal Waterway to dispense food using plastic, Styrofoam, or non-biodegradeable containers. That includes every single restaurant along Hollywood Beach, where most of the city’s highest-traffic restaurants and nightlife hubs, like the Margaritaville Hotel, are located.
An ordinance, which has apparently existed in its current form since 1996, reads that “establishments located east of the Intercoastal [sic] Waterway selling food intended for consumption by customers off the premises of such establishments, or serving food in an outside seating area of an establishment, shall not sell or dispense disposable food service products, including but not limited to cups, lids, straws, plates, bowls, utensils, sandwich containers, or other packaging, which are made of plastic, polystyrene plastic, or of any nonbiodegradable material.” Businesses caught breaking the ordinance could be subject to a $500 fine.
But judging by the dozens of restaurants slinging food and drinks along the Broadwalk, an oceanfront promenade, the law doesn’t seem to be enforced too often.
Uden was stunned. “We just found out about it,” she said. “I bet the restaurants don’t even know it’s on the books.”
Last month, she even spoke out about the bill’s enforcement, or lack thereof, at a City Commission meeting.
“We also have been made aware that there is an ordinance in Hollywood stating that businesses east of the Intracoastal shall not sell or dispense disposable food service products that are non-biodegradable, such as plastic straws and Styrofoam containers,” she said, according to a transcript of her speech she provided to New Times. “There are many restaurants and businesses on Hollywood Beach that are violating this ordinance.”
Corey Haim Afriat, owner of the Les Artistes Café on Hollywood Beach, said he’d seen a mention of the law in some code enforcement documents the city had provided him in the past but that he hadn’t heard a word about it since. Asked if he thought restaurants along the beach were aware that the ordinance existed, he said, “No, not at all.”
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He thinks the law would be difficult to police. “It’s pretty absurd,” he said. “No one really follows those rules around here. We’re restaurants, we’re doing to-go orders. We can’t serve them in glass. [The ordinance is] not really enforced out here.”
The Surfrider Foundation is hoping businesses begin to voluntarily comply with the law. Since environmentalists claim the plastic items easily float out into the ocean and harm animals, Uden says the Surfrider Foundation will “immediately” start distributing “Turtle Friendly” and “Ocean Friendly” stickers to businesses that agree to stop using plastic.
Hollywood’s Code Enforcement department did not respond to multiple calls and emails this week. But City Spokesperson Raelin Storey confirmed that the law is, indeed, “on our books.”
(Update: Though some restaurants may claim abiding by the law is impossible, Delray Beach's Saltwater Brewery has teamed with a company to create edible six-pack rings, in an effort to save some helpless sea turtles. Perhaps the idea could migrate down to Hollywood in the next few years.)