City commission is one vote away from passing ordinances that impose new regulations on every restaurant, food retailer, and apartment complex

Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos praises the new ordinances


With little discussion, the first reading of the City of Gainesville’s Zero Waste ordinances passed unanimously on May 5.

“Solid Waste”

The “Solid Waste” ordinance establishes some new requirements for commercial establishments, including providing an equal number of receptacles for recycling as are provided for garbage, requiring pharmacies to provide a take-back program for prescription drugs, and requiring all properties that provide commercially-collected residential garbage service to also provide recycling service. Residential properties with at least 200 leased units must provide a plan by January 1, 2023, for diverting “usable and functioning household goods, furnishings, and electronics” from the landfill waste stream. Properties with at least 50 leased units must provide such a plan by January 1, 2025. 

The ordinance includes the provision that restaurants are no longer permitted to provide single-use plastic utensils or other accessories, even for dine-in, unless the customer requests them or unless they are provided at a self-serve station. 

All intentional outdoor releases of plastic confetti, glitter, and balloons are also prohibited.

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Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos thanked everyone who had worked on the ordinance since Zero Waste Gainesville started in 2017. “This will, I believe, be probably one of the most progressive ordinances in the United States on this, especially in the southeast, and it will allow us to make substantial change, something that the public has been asking for for a long time.”

He made a motion to adopt the ordinance on first reading. Commissioner David Arreola thanked Hayes-Santos for his “hyper focus” on creating the ordinance. Commissioner Reina Saco said, “It was a huge effort… can’t wait to see the effects.”

No members of the public spoke, and the motion passed unanimously.

“Food Waste”

The “Food Waste” ordinance requires mandatory collection of food waste. All commercially-collected residential property owners (i.e., apartment complexes, etc.) are required to implement a food waste collection program that provides a food waste container in a common area of the property, educates their residents, and provides to each resident a container for transporting food waste to the collection area. 

Commercial establishments (like restaurants) that “generate one cubic yard of food waste or more per week” are required to separate food waste from the waste stream by June 1, 2023. By June 1, 2026, all commercial establishments shall separate food waste from the waste stream. Restaurants also have to deliver the food waste to a food waste processor or produce a contract with a food waste registrant. 

Any restaurant that provides garbage receptacles to the public “shall provide an equal number of receptacles for collection of food waste” next to the garbage and recycling receptacles. 

Registration with the City is required for any entity that “shall collect, transport, convey or process food waste.” All food waste “shall be delivered to a food waste processing facility that meets permitting requirements of the State of Florida.”

The ordinance passed unanimously on first reading without any discussion, and nobody from the public spoke about it. 

“Food Diversion”

The third ordinance, the “Food Diversion” ordinance, requires food retailers that occupy at least 25,000 square feet to divert food or food waste from the waste stream by January 1, 2023. By January 1, 2024, establishments that occupy at least 4,500 square feet, along with a wide range of other food retail/preparation businesses, are required to comply.

Under the ordinance, food must be diverted under this hierarchy: 1) Feeding hungry people; 2) Feeding animals; 3) Providing for industrial uses; 4) Composting. Businesses must provide receipts of delivery to a food bank or a food waste processing facility.

Saco made a motion to approve the ordinance on first reading. Hayes-Santos remarked, “I think this portion of the ordinance is pretty big. This has—grocery stores won’t be able to just throw away edible food. They’ll have to give it to people who are hungry. So it’s a major step in that direction of not wasting edible food, making sure people in our community don’t go hungry.” 

Again, nobody from the public spoke, and the ordinance passed unanimously on first reading. 

Both ordinances will become final on second reading, which is scheduled for this Thursday’s city commission meeting if it is held.