Plastic drinking straw ban adopted by Fort Myers Beach Town Council
A look at the impact of single-use plastic drinking straws, and what businesses can do to be champions for the environment. Laura Ruane/news-press.com
The plastic straw’s days are numbered on Fort Myers Beach.
On Monday, the Town Council passed an ordinance prohibiting distribution of plastic drinking straws in the town, with limited exceptions.
It’s a good first step, said several council members, given the risks that all forms of discarded plastic pose to the health and welfare of the marine wildlife and the community.
Straws won’t entirely vanish, though.
The ordinance allows straws made of paper, plant, vegetable and other materials containing nothing artificial or synthetic in their compounds.
It exempts plastic straws used in private homes, at the Beach public school or those pre-packaged with drinks outside the town — think single-serve juice and milk cartons with straws sold in stores.
The ordinance goes into effect in 90 days. When it does, officers of the town’s code enforcement and beach and street enforcement divisions will handle enforcement.
Restaurants, bars, stores – and yes, even folks who might bring straws to the beach from their homes – are expected to comply.
Some businesses changed straws well in advance.
“That’s where education comes in; everything allows for a warning,” said Town Manager Roger Hernstadt, when asked after the vote how unknowing visitors will be treated.
Violators will face citation penalties ranging from a $100 fine for a first offense to a $500 fine for the third offense or more within a year.
The ordinance passed 4-1, with Councilwoman Anita Cereceda dissenting.
“It would have been a heckuva lot easier to restaurants and hotels and get some compliance … rather than singling out a single plastic item from the mountain of plastic that is left on our beachfront,” Cereceda said.
Vice Mayor Tracey Gore countered: “I don’t think we’re singling out straws. We’re starting with straws.”
Today, dozens of communities along U.S. coastlines are discussing voluntary abstinence — if not outright bans — of single-use plastic drinking straws.
The business impact of the change is unclear.
Mom’s Restaurant on Estero Boulevard initially had problems finding affordable paper straws in sufficient quantity, but now “has tons of them,” said owner Heather Reagan.
She doesn’t think other business owners will have trouble sourcing straws made of paper or other natural materials.
One downside to a paper straw is that, “if you don’t drink fast, you’ll need another one,” Reagan said.
Then again, that’s the beauty of a paper straw. Unlike plastic, she said, “it falls apart.”
Reagan is willing to absorb the extra cost of buying paper straws, and doling out second straws as needed.
She loathes the eyesore of plastic straw litter and its hazards.
“I’m a Beach resident. It’s worth it because of the Beach.”
A reporter checked in with some visitors, and found a favorable reaction.
At the Beach’s Times Square, Rochelle Murphy of Youngstown, Ohio, nursed a drink with a plastic straw inserted.
She’s 41, and doesn’t recall ever seeing a paper straw, much less using one. She just prefers that “some type of straw be available.”
Murphy’s sympathetic to the ordinance’s intentions, however. She doesn’t use plastic straws at home. “Plastic is terrible.”
Near the pier, 32-year-old Michelle Santarossa got her two preschool-age daughters into dry clothes.
The plastic straw ban will be no inconvenience to her family: They tote along reusable containers for their beach beverages.
“We’re from Canada,” Santarossa added, “It’s shocking how little recycling is done here.”
At a Beach pizzeria, 69-year-old Steve Gelsey of Sun City Center said he thinks most people use plastic straws only when they are given drinks with them.
Wife Pat Gelsey, 68, is all for prohibiting plastic straws, calling it “a start” to greater environmental protections.
There is more to be done, said Beach resident Jeanne Shaw, who attended the council meeting.
Shaw is a volunteer for Turtle Time, a monitoring organization for sea turtles – one of the marine species at risk from ingesting plastic or getting entangled in it.
“It looks like they’ll go at it piecemeal,” Shaw said of town leaders. “It will take forever.”
News Press photographer Andrew West uses a GoPro attached to the end of a long PVC pipe to film alligators underwater in the wild in the Everglades National Park. Andrew West