Straws vs. the Big Picture

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The Town of Fort Myers Beach is going to clean up the world’s oceans by banning plastic straws. The second reading of an ordinance to ban the use of plastic straws by beach businesses will be held on September 7th.

We’re sure no one on council really thinks that our town’s ban on plastic straws will have anything more than a token effect on global plastic pollution, but it sure sounds good, doesn’t it? It sounds like they are taking a stand against the evil polluters of the universe.

Except the only people who will suffer are beach businesses. They are the ones that will be forced to purchase higher price “biodegradable” straws, while their competition just over the bridge and elsewhere in Lee County doesn’t have that extra expense.

Our council, in spite of their recent strategic planning sessions and pledges to keep an eye on the big picture, still operates on a reactive basis. Someone comes to them with an idea or a complaint and they react. All that’s needed is one or two folks complaining and off they go. In March, after comments from fewer than a handful of speakers, the council asked the Marine Resource Task Force to find ways to reduce plastic on the beach and voila! We will soon have a total ban on beach businesses using plastic straws.

How many beach businesses were included in the discussion? How many were asked for their input on ways to reduce plastic litter on the beach? Was any effort made to investigate the financial impact of this ban on beach businesses? It’s nice that at least one of our council members doesn’t want to hear about that impact, but it’s real nonetheless and becomes essentially a tax on every bar and restaurant business here. As if our business environment isn’t difficult enough.

Plastic straws should not end up on our beaches, but neither should all the other litter that ends up on our beaches and in the Gulf.

Plastic bags, plastic and glass bottles, cigarette lighters and butts, soda and beer cans, plastic rings, Styrofoam, fishing line – these all, when they end up discarded in the ocean, cause harm to marine life and pollute our oceans. Has the Town banned plastic bottles or aluminum cans?

Nationally, advocates in the effort to lower ocean plastic pollution includes a straw strategy that doesn’t include a full ban, but rather working with businesses to provide straws only if asked for one. This strategy reduces use and opens a conversation with our visitors on plastic pollution and what we can do about it via our personal choices. Win-win.

There is no argument that the problem of plastic pollution is a very real issue that affects all of us. We wish it could be resolved with a plastic straw ban. But if every waterfront community banned straws tomorrow, the increasing rate of plastics in our oceans would not drop a bit.

For over 50 years the world has seen rising production and consumption of plastics. Plastic is lightweight, flexible, moisture resistant, strong and cheap. However it is also very durable and extremely slow to degrade – think 500-1,000 years. And when used in the production or packaging of just about everything, it becomes trash that never goes away. Combine that with our culture’s tendency to over-consume, throw things away and litter, and the results are visible on any beach, including ours.

We are right to be concerned about ocean pollution and the role plastic plays in that. This is a global problem. Let’s not go for the simplistic fix that may make us feel good about taking a tiny step in the right direction, but doesn’t do much for the real problem, harms our community’s businesses and makes our community look ridiculous.

Straws are not the biggest offender in the plastic pollution arena. Water and soda bottles, food wrappers and plastic bags come in way ahead in terms of sheer pollution mass. Let’s join communities working to reduce the use of all disposable plastic. Let’s encourage visitors to bring their own beverage cups. Let’s consider a promotion for a special Fort Myers Beach beverage cup that includes discounts on refills.

The Town should work with the local business community and find ways to reduce plastic usage, beginning with a voluntary “Serve Straws Upon Request Only” policy here in our town.

Whether the straw ban is passed or not, our Town needs to invest in a strong, “Help Keep Our Beach Clean – Don’t Litter” push. We have signs now and Town staff picks up the beach, as do volunteers, but we need more, much more. Studies show that the more litter is in an area, the more likely others are to add to it. So, let’s amp up our beach clean up efforts!

 

Missy Layfield