The last straws: Plastic straws banned in West Palm Beach
Five hundred million plastic straws are used by Americans every day.
Most make their way to the ocean and waterways after use. It will take 200 years to begin the process of degradation, according to Plastic Free Pledge. These single-use straws are non-biodegradable, and when they end up in waterways, they break down into microscopic pieces that aquatic life mistakes for food.
When humans then consume the animals that eat the plastic, the cycle of harm continues. It is a crisis to marine ecosystems that costs approximately $8 billion. Even when that plastic does eventually degrade, it will never leave the environment. It is an ecological emergency for both humanity and wildlife.
Many cities across America have already banned plastic items like straws and stirrers.
Seattle, San Francisco, Oakland and Portland, Oregon are just a few examples. In Florida, Miami Beach, Delray Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Saint Petersburg have followed this trend. West Palm Beach is on the path to joining that list as a part of the Plastic Free Pledge campaign.
The West Palm Beach City Commission held a first reading to amend the Code of Ordinances to prohibit the distribution, sale or use of plastic straws and plastic stirrers.
The amendment would also “increase public awareness of daily decisions that consumers may make to reduce solid waste and the risk of plastics and non-biodegradable waste entering the waste system or into storm drains and local waterways,” according to the memorandum that Plastic Free Pledge presented at the meeting.
One of the campaign’s representatives, Elaine Christian, noted that an exception to the ban applies to those dependent on straws, such as the disabled or those with mental impairments. A lack of automotive or mental ability can impair ability to drink from a cup without a straw. But even in these cases, the goal will be to gradually transition to straws of a less deleterious material.
“They will have alternatives like paper and hay,” Christian said. “There are many different options.”
The motion for the first reading garnered unanimous agreement from the City Commission. The adoption of the ordinance on April 1 will begin with a public education campaign to inform commercial establishments of the ordinance provisions. This includes assistance identifying alternatives for plastic. This phase will last until Sept. 30, at which point the city will begin to enforce the ban.
City Commissioner Christina Lambert explained that the transition will not be too difficult.
“We have seen a lot of support for this from not only the residents but also business owners,” Lambert said. “They’re already businesses that are complying without it being regulated.”
Christian said she hopes that by the enforcement period, the disappearance of plastic straws will be “immediate.”
“We’re going to continue to do cleanups up until that point,” Christian said.
By Benjamin Wainer