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Say goodbye, plastic straws

Town Council directs staff to draw up ban

June 14, 2017
Jessica Salmond - News Editor (jsalmond@breezenewspapers.com) , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Fort Myers Beach snowbird Eddie Foster stood behind the podium in Town Council Chambers for countless times, repeating and reminding the council members of the detrimental effects of plastics in the ocean.

Her speeches always included a plea for the town to ban plastic straws on the beach.

Foster's perseverance may have finally paid off: at the June 6 meeting, town council directed staff to draw up documents to ban plastic straws on Fort Myers Beach.

In March, the council directed the Marine Resources Task Force (MRTF) to research a straw ban. Bill Veach, MRTF Chair, presented his findings and the task force's recommendations Tuesday.

It was straight forward: ban the plastic straws.

Plastic straws take hundreds of years to decompose. According to Ocean Conservancy, a conservation advocacy group focused on the world's oceans, plastics have been found in the stomachs of 62 percent of seabirds. The 2016 International Coastal Cleanup tally revealed that plastic straws are in the top ten most-found litter items around the world. With many waterside restaurants, Fort Myers Beach's sand is often a haven for the clear plastic straws, which are harmful to anything from seat turtles to shorebirds. A few years ago, a video circulated on social media can give an example: in 2015, biologists in Costa Rica pulled a straw from a sea turtle's nostril cavity.

Fact Box

Say no to straws

Even if Fort Myers Beach passes an ordinance banning plastic straws, these small plastics are a problem throughout the country and especially in coastal areas with waterfront businesses. An online blog and movement to eliminate straw waste, thelastplasticstraw.org, offers up this suggestion to those who want to help reduce plastic waste: just ask to not get a straw in your drink when you are out!

Just on his walk to town hall, Veach said he picked up multiple clear plastic straws.

A few years ago, the community did a visioning exercise to decide how it wanted the community to be, and Veach said he specifically remembered many saying they wanted to keep the town "funky," not generic.

"There's a fine line between funky and trashy," he said. "I think this is one of the things that falls into that."

Clear plastic straws blend into the sand easily and are often left behind even during a vigorous beach raking to sift out other trash. Their chemical makeup also prevents decomposition.

Veach and MRTF researched several alternatives businesses on the island could use. But one island staple has already made the switch.

The Lani Kai ditched plastic straws for biodegradable straws almost a year ago. The new drinking straws they use are green, which aid in beach cleanups and the resort staff's daily litter cleanup as they are easier to see. According to an article in the Beach Bulletin last year, these green straws take about six months to decompose.

Veach spoke with the Lani Kai about the biodegradable straws for a cost comparison. The plastic straws cost about .4 of a cent per straw and the biodegradable ones cost about .52 of a cent per straw.

Larry Puccia, general manager, said while the green straws might cost a little bit more, it was a worthwhile expense. For Lani Kai owner Bob Conidaris, it was not a problem.

"The cost factor was never a factor," Puccia said. "He (Conidaris) never even asked me what it's going to cost. We never considered that as prohibitive."

Lani Kai is one of the larger establishments on Fort Myers Beach; Puccia said he couldn't speculate on whether or not the extra cost would be a problem for other island bars and restaurants. But his view was that it's less about the cost and more about the benefit to the island and the environment.

"I don't know if it would be too expensive, but if you factor in the benefit for the next generation, can you put a price tag on that?" he said. "The idea of what's going to be here for the next generation is what motivated that."

Veach suggested the town should consider an overall ban on plastic straws to make it easier to enforce and non-discriminatory to the businesses, as many beachgoers bring their own drinks or get drinks at convenience stores that have plastic straws as well.

"I think any business can make the switch," Veach said.

Council Member Joanne Shamp saw no reason to stop at straws - she suggested whatever document was drawn up should look at other harmful objects, like plastic bags, but Veach said MRTF had only researched straws as that was the direction from council and sticking with straws for now might be most effective.

The council unanimously approved to have staff draw up an ordinance, which will have to appear before the Local Planning Agency before it returns to council for approval.

I support this, lets direct staff to write whatever needed to ban straws," Shamp said.

Puccia said he was happy to see the town making a move for the environment as the Lani Kai hits a year of its voluntary switch.

"I think it's a great thing," Puccia said. "We don't even think about it anymore. You want the best for the next generation, they need to have a world here. Let's leave something positive."

 
 

 

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