Boca Opts Against Plastic Straw Ban, Advocates Voluntary Action

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By: Marisa Herman Associate Editor

Boca Raton will not demand restaurants to stop providing plastic straws to patrons.

Instead, the city will embark on a public relations campaign advocating voluntary participation in skipping the use of plastic straws and other single use plastics.

Boca council members discussed the possibility of joining other Florida cities that have implemented plastic straw bans and decided against imposing a ban.

Council members noted that state legislators are considering a moratorium on plastic straw bans and questioned whether a ban violates the Americans With Disabilities Act.

“We can be a leader and do something different,” Mayor Scott Singer said. “We can go so much further in a way of getting voluntary compliance. I want to do something more that is bulletproof and immune from what they are doing in Tallahassee.”

Councilwoman Monica Mayotte proposed the ban during a recent workshop meeting.

“One of the big concerns for me about plastic is it can’t be recycled,” Mayotte said. “It’s going to be in our landfills for 1,000 years, it ends up in our oceans and its killing our marine life.”

Representatives from the Sierra Club and nonprofit Surfrider Foundation shared how plastic straws can’t be recycled and harm the environment.

A group of schoolchildren from Calusa Elementary spent the last day of their spring break appealing to the council by singing a song about the local wildlife that is dying because of all the plastic in the ocean.

“We use all these plastic items and we use them for a second,” Drew Martin from the Sierra Club said. “We are using a temporary item that can last for 1,000 years in the environment. It doesn’t go away. It doesn’t biodegrade.”

Resident and 4Ocean employee, which cleans canals, Ryan Dick said, “If we are really serious about stopping the problem, we need a ban.”

But a ban could be in jeopardy if the state passes a preemptive measure. A state legislative committee already passed a bill that would place a five-year moratorium on local laws that ban plastic straws. The fate of the bill will be known by July 1.

So, council members agreed to look into ways to set the example on using less plastics on the city level and by rewarding businesses who follow suit without changing the law.

The city has already implemented a Coastal Connection program, which highlights businesses that have eliminated the use of plastic straws or gone to straws by request only. The Boca Raton Resort & Club, Kapow Noodle Bar and Dubliner are all on the list of phasing out plastic straws.

Christopher Cartenuto, one of the owners of Tucker Duke’s Lunchbox, which has a Boca location, said the restaurant went to straw on request option and it has reduced the straw consumption immensely.

Rather than impose more rules on business owners, he said let the customers dictate what they want. He said the restaurant rarely uses Styrofoam because the customers don’t want it.

“More rules is just not the great way to go,” he said. “Let the market decide. Let the customers tell us they don’t want the straws.”

Florida Atlantic University student and business owner Kyle Langsing shared that his business StrawFish supplies paper straws to companies for free. To subsidize the cost, the company sells T-shirts.

He said the straws are gluten free, compostable and biodegrade in six weeks. They are patented and are the thickest paper straw on the market as well as the cheapest.

Langsing said they have also created a straw that bends and doesn’t disintegrate in hot beverages, which can serve folks in the disability community.

“We are giving restaurants an incentive to use paper straws,” he said. “We look to completely eliminate the expense.”

Mayor Singer said the city, as an employer, should eliminate its use of plastics and look toward creating environmentally friendly swag.

“We are an employer as well,” he said. “We can set these examples.”

Ideas include serving pitchers of tap water in city meetings instead of plastic bottles, installing more water fountains with bottle refilling stations and promoting businesses that are providing alternative uses to plastics.

He said the city could also sell its own reusable straws, water bottles and shopping bags.

“I think we can combine all these efforts in an effective campaign,” he said.