Ban the plastic straw on Sanibel Island
In early February, a local media outlet published an article about the remarkable news that Fort Myers Beach now has a ban on plastic drinking straws. I thought to myself, “If Fort Myers Beach can do this, then Sanibel certainly can!” After reading the newspaper, I went for my morning walk. On that walk I saw my neighbor, City Councilmember Jason Maughan, and asked him what he thought of the idea. He was positive. We talked about how many more straws were probably on Fort Myers Beach because of all the commercial enterprises there, but there are some near-beach establishments where plastic straws are routinely used on Sanibel.
The first person I ever heard talk about the environmental threats posed by plastic drinking straws was Carolyn Raffensperger, our keynote speaker at the Committee of the Islands annual meeting in 2011. Several COTI board members took Carolyn out to lunch and there she made a point of ordering her ice water with “no straw,” then she told us why she did so. She convinced me, and from then on I’ve tried to always remember to order my water with no straw.
500 MILLION STRAWS A DAY
According to thelastplasticstraw.org, 500 million straws are used each day in the United States. They are used once, then discarded. These straws are a single-use plastic and they are, by and large, unnecessary for the consumption of beverages. While straws are not the major portion of plastic waste that ends up in our oceans, it is their uselessness that makes it all the more important to eliminate them from our daily lives as much as possible.
Even though straws are small, they are dangerous to sea life. They can become entangled with marine animals, be eaten by fish, be embedded in sea turtle noses and damage coral reefs. Plastics eaten by endangered sea turtles can fill their stomachs and cause them to starve to death.
The amount of plastic trash accumulating in the Earth’s oceans is staggering. A study by the World Economic Forum (www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_The_New_Plastics_Economy.pdf) states that it is possible that the weight of all the plastic trash in the seas will be more than the weight of all the fish by the year 2050.
ALTERNATIVES TO PLASTIC STRAWS
For those who think that straws are useful and necessary, there are alternatives to single-use plastic straws. Single-use straws can be made from paper. Reusable straws can be made from glass, metal and bamboo. These alternatives are readily available now.
Fort Myers Beach is one of about a half-dozen cities in the United States that have banned or severely restricted the use of plastic straws in commercial establishments. But dozens more U.S. cities are now considering bans. Even McDonald’s in Britain is phasing out the use of plastic straws in advance of a planned national ban on single-use plastics.
Some Sanibel restaurants and food/beverage vendors have voluntarily stopped using plastic straws, but others have not. Let’s make it official: ban the plastic straw on Sanibel Island. The Sanibel City Council discussed the idea at the end of its June 5 meeting, so perhaps the city will take this important step soon.
Barbara Joy Cooley is the chair of COTI’s Environment Committee. COTI invites the community’s input on this and other issues affecting Sanibel at firstname.lastname@example.org. To read past commentaries on island issues, visit www.coti.org or Committee of the Islands on Facebook.