Environmental Warriors

Becca Chaffee, from left, Dream Green Restaurant Recognition Team Leader; Suzanne Scheiber, founder; New Smyrna Beach Mayor Russ Owen; Steve Wonderly, Volusia-Flagler Sierra Chair; Chad Truxall, executive director of Marine Discovery Center; and Professor Younger Kim of Bethune-Cookman College support Dream Green.

What started as an idea by Ormond Beach resident Suzanne Scheiber to limit single-use plastics now has government officials throughout Volusia County making it happen.

The New Smyrna Beach City Commission June 25 unanimously approved a permanent ban in their government buildings of Styrofoam and plastic straws. It is the first permanent ban in Volusia.

The New Smyrna Beach ordinance prohibits the sale or use of single-use plastics by contractors and temporary vendors on city property and in city facilities,” said Phillip Veski, public information officer. “This covers things like plastic straws, Styrofoam, (and) food containers made of polypropylene.”

Mr. Veski stated Dream Green Volusia’s presentation to a neighborhood council meeting a few months ago resulted in the council unanimously approving a recommendation to the commission to approve the ordinance.

“New Smyrna Beach is at the forefront at the leading edge of those (measures) here in Volusia County and we are excited about keeping this track record of environmental stewardship going,” he said.

New Smyrna Beach did not want to regulate private enterprise, but the city is looking at initiating a green business recognition program, still in the conceptual phase.

Some business owners are getting on board the environmental train on their own. Dylan Smith, who owns Go Juice on Flagler Avenue in New Smyrna Beach, uses papaya straws made from his own trees to accompany the all-natural drinks he sells, predominantly juices, smoothies and acai.

He was picking up dead papaya stems one day and realized they were hollow and could be used as straws.

“I try my best to not use single-use plastic,” Mr. Smith said. “I am trying to inform the community on the issue of single-use plastic. I am super happy with what Suzanne is doing. It starts small and it goes outward.”

Dream Green Volusia was born March 3. The grass roots community outreach action group is comprised of environmental and civic organizations working together in Volusia and on the east coast of Florida.

The groups main focus is single-use plastics, specifically straws, bags and Styrofoam. Single-use plastics are items only used once before they are thrown away. Plastics do not bio-degrade and end up in landfills, waterways, oceans and the environment. They slowly break down into microplastics over a long period of time and end up contaminating soil and water. The toxic chemicals ultimately end up in the food chain and are bad for health. They also wreak havoc on wildlife.

Dream Green's first official project was March 30 with a “State of the River” boat tour in New Smyrna Beach in conjunction with the Litter Gitter boat, which is owned by the non-profit North Florida Coastal Caretakers of St. Augustine.

Dream Green Volusia’s short-term goal is to bring about public awareness of the problem and to engage public participation. The long-term goal is to help businesses and other entities transfer from the use of single-use plastic to a bio-degradable alternative in a financially sustainable way

“Ponce Inlet and South Daytona are at the beginning of discussions on what they can do to reduce single use plastics in their cities,” Ms. Scheiber said. “We spoke in Ponce Inlet and met with the Mayor of South Daytona. Monday, June 24, there was a Civil Discourse meeting at the Ormond Beach Library for the public to attend. Commissioner Susan Persis is initiating this plastic straw ban in Ormond. The City of Port Orange recently adopted a resolution that encourages the reduction in single-use plastics, but does not ban them.”

Ms. Scheiber said there are a variety of viable alternatives to plastic straws, such as bamboo and rice filler paper straws. One major concern for her is Volusia and Florida do not have a commercial composter. So those products, which may look biodegradable but are not, end up in landfills and take a long time to break down.

She would like a renewable energy station for Volusia, a commercial composter, or both. She acknowledges there is much work to be done to get all Volusia governments talking about identified problems, such as single-use plastics.

“It’s starting the conversation and getting people to understand the problem, really is where it’s all about” she said. “I am thrilled that this much change is happening this quickly.”

Dream Green Volusia is gathering support from Flagler County as well. The group hosted a meeting with Carl Persis, Volusia County School Board chairman; Heather DeMeola, director of Volusia School Way Café; and Dr. Ellen Asher with Old Kings Elementary School in Flagler.

“Ellen was instrumental in getting Flagler Public Schools to replace Styrofoam trays with a biodegradable tray,” Ms. Scheiber said. “The four of us met and discussed replacing the Styrofoam tray and implementation.

“I want to emphasize that Dr. Asher was instrumental bringing a solution to present to the school board with us. She did the work in Flagler and was able to get 13 districts to join in, which worked to lower the cost. She did it with elementary school student’s support and educating them on the problems with Styrofoam and plastic. It’s all good and proactive teaching youth. They became the environmental changers in all of this. She really is amazing.”

The list of groups participating is growing, but volunteers are always needed. For more information, call (386) 212-7721 or email dreamgreenvolusia@gmail.com.

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