St. Pete City Council committee favors voluntary plastic straw reduction over ban

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Regulate single-use plastics sign. By Seán Kinane / WMNF News (10 April 2018).
plastics ban
“Plastic straws suck” sign. By Seán Kinane / WMNF News (10 April 2018).

Next month, St. Pete City Council will consider an ordinance to comprehensively look at how the city deals with all kinds of disposable plastics: from straws, to bags and polystyrene containers. In a committee today the focus was entirely on plastic straws: should there be a ban – as requested by environmentalists – or a voluntary reduction program, favored by business groups? On Thursday city council decided to take the ban off the table, for now at least. But there was talk about considering a complete ban in the future.

Council member Darden Rice said one reason to consider an outright ban is because of the Florida Legislature’s history of passing pre-emptive laws to forbid local governments from making local rules that are stricter than state rules.

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Council member Steve Kornell referenced a successful business-led voluntary program to cut down on nitrogen pollution and also criticized the Florida Legislature’s preemption history.

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plastic straw ban
Jennifer Winn holds plastics during a trash cleanup with Stetson Law students in March, 2018. Photo courtesy Vanessa Moore.

The leader of the St. Pete Chamber of Commerce’s sustainability committee said the Chamber opposes a plastic straw ban and instead prefers a voluntary reduction and education program. She said not enough business have bought in to the plastic straw reduction program yet.

The owner of the downtown restaurant The Galley said they have switched to giving out straws only when asked and they’ve added paper straws, which are more expensive. He said he opposes a ban straws because he wouldn’t want to see a bartender get fined or arrested for passing out plastic straws.

An Eckerd College professor told the St. Petersburg City Council’s Health, Energy, Resiliency & Sustainability Committee that there are trillions of pieces of microplastics in Tampa Bay.

A scientist from the USF College of Marine Science said a plastic straw ban that Ft. Myers Beach passed last November has not hurt businesses.

plastic ban
Osprey with plastic bag attached to its nest in St. Petersburg.

The committee voted 3-1 to consider a voluntary plastic straw reduction program instead of a ban. Darden Rice, who supports a ban, was the “no” vote.

After the meeting, the chair of the Suncoast Rise Above Plastics Coalition said in an email, “Our environmental coalition packed the house Thursday afternoon in support of clear language eliminating plastic straws from the City of St. Pete. Today, is unfortunately a missed opportunity for council to lead when it comes to protecting our health, our beaches, and our tourist economy.”

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