The Future of Plastic Straws and Polystyrene in St. Pete

Posted On 12/28/2018 by St. Pete Chamber

Whoever thinks “straws aren’t a big deal” should have been in city hall on Thursday night. Over 40 residents, including a few children, voiced their disdain for single use plastics. The proposed ordinance imposed a 1 year period where businesses could only supply a plastic straw upon customer request and then a ban on single use plastic straw distribution in the city in 2020. Polystyrene (aka Styrofoam) would be banned from distribution on city property and rights of way, affecting mainly sidewalk cafes, food trucks, and events in our parks, including Rib Fest.

The St. Pete Chamber believed City Council was taking a too narrow viewpoint of the issue and advocated that ALL straws be distributed only upon request at food and beverage service establishments. This position was the result of several discussions in our Sustainability Committee followed by Public Policy and the Board of Governors.

The table below explains our concerns with the full ban and how an “on request only” ordinance would have mitigated those issues:

Issue Compulsory Ban On Request Only
Defined Materials We haven’t seen where the city has defined “plastic” as related to this ordinance nor recommended alternatives.

Plant-based plastics are no safer in the marine environment than petroleum-based plastic straws.

Further, bio-degradable and compostable products can create marketplace and consumer confusion possibly having a negative impact on the reputation of businesses who are simply trying to “do the right thing” without being educated on the impacts of these products.

Unnecessary to define as all straws would be subject to ordinance.
Cost and Availability The safest, current disposable alternative is Aardvark Paper Straws. The paper used to create them is sourced from responsibly managed forests. Due to market demand, there is an up to 12-week order time for these products. Allows businesses to use straw type as a competitive advantage without undue financial burdens.
Solving the Problem Reviewing local data from the Ocean Conservancy, straws are not our biggest problem (see graph below).

Banning plastic straws will not influence the safety of marine life or preventing litter in our waters. Current alternatives are not safer than plastic. Have the economic implications, including reputation management, of affected businesses been measured?

The best way to reduce the use of all straws is to make them available on request only. Paper straws have a large carbon footprint. Compostable straws do not break down in water.
Enforcement A complaint-based system still requires an

enforcement officer to investigate the type of straw used and check it against a yet undefined criterion. Is this the best use of their time? With plastic alternatives in the market place, could enforcement calls be potentially unfounded?

Code Enforcement would be able to cite offending businesses without investigating supply closets, bar rails, etc. A business would be in violation of the ordinance if a patron is served a straw without requesting one.

Councilmember Ed Montanari made a motion to remove the full ban and have the on request only rules not sunset. Councilmembers Brandi Gabbard and Steve Kornell supported the motion but Amy Foster, Darden Rice, Gina Driscoll and Charlie Gerdes opposed. The ordinance that was adopted includes a 1 year period of “on request” with no penalties and then a 3 month period in 2020 with warnings before business will begin being fined for distributing plastic straws to customers.

The State Legislature may take a look at preempting the city’s action and prevent enforcement through statute.

Category: Advocacy