Will Key West ban plastic straws? City leaders are having their say

Cities ban single-use plastic products to help reduce ocean pollution

About 8 million tons of plastic waste end up in the ocean every year, according to the United Nations. Some cities have banned single-use plastic products including straws and bags.
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About 8 million tons of plastic waste end up in the ocean every year, according to the United Nations. Some cities have banned single-use plastic products including straws and bags.

Key West city leaders want to ban single-use plastic straws from the island by approving a new law that would make it illegal to use, possess or distribute them.

The City Commission meets Tuesday starting at 5 p.m. at City Hall, 1300 White St.

The law is likely to pass as six of the seven commissioners have sponsored the measure.

Commissioner Greg Davila is the only one who isn’t a sponsor, but said that’s only because he has some questions about the way it’s written.

“I just don’t think anyone walking down the street with a straw should be cited by code enforcement,” Davila said. “I’m generally for it, anything we can do to reduce plastic.”

If passed, the law would go into effect on Jan. 1, 2020, to give businesses time to make the adjustment.

At issue is the health of the community and the surrounding waters, according to the proposed ordinance, which says the littering of straws is “catastrophic” to the health of sea turtles, manatees and other species.

Any inconvenience or financial impacts caused by the straw ban are “minor” compared to the benefit to the environment, the proposal states.

The ban does not prohibit straws made from paper, bamboo or similar materials.

But will such a ban mean that parents could no longer buy juice boxes and other beverages that come with plastic straws already affixed to the container?

“That I don’t know if we’re ready to deal with that part of it,” said Commissioner Clayton Lopez. “We’ve got another can of worms we’re dealing with. What are we not going to allow any of those things to come in for our kids?”

Lopez says banning straws from the food service industry is where Key West should start. Many bars and restaurants have already voluntarily replaced plastic straws with ones made from paper.

Also, Lopez isn’t sure he’s comfortable with banning plastic straws for use by the disabled or elderly. But he sees the straw ban as a step in the right direction.

“I can readily identify with how much better it would be for the environment and the sea animals,” Lopez said. “It just doesn’t break down, I get that.”

Miami Beach has a ban on plastic straws and stirrers that includes sidewalk cafes, parks, marinas, piers and docks.

In the Keys, such bans haven’t caught on.

Islamorada leaders last year considered a plastic straw ban but backed off and instead said they’d work on encouraging businesses to use less plastic.

Key West earlier this year banned the use of Styrofoam containers on city-owned property, such as during festivals and other events.

Commissioners were cautious not to ban the material citywide, citing a lawsuit against Coral Gables, which banned Styrofoam only to have the industry fight back in court. The Third District Court of Appeal on Wednesday ruled against the Gables’ ban.

The appeals court, however, upheld a state law passed in 2016 that prohibits local governments from regulating polystyrene food containers, also known as Styrofoam, and retroactively prohibited any related government ordinances.

State preemption has been a recurring theme in Tallahassee. When the legislative session ended earlier this year, local governments across South Florida were stripped of the ability to require tree removal permits and regulate vegetable gardens.

Other municipal laws were targeted but ultimately survived, including the ability to ban plastic straws and ban businesses from using single-use carryout plastic bags. Coral Gables bans those bags.

This report was supplemented with material from the News Service of Florida.