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St. Petersburg City Council to vote Thursday on banning plastic straws

The proposal also bans the use of expanded polystyrene, also known as Styrofoam, by food service providers on city property.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The St. Petersburg City Council is planning to vote Thursday on a ban of single-use plastic straws by food service establishments.

The proposed ordinance would take effect on Jan. 1, 2020, if it is passed.

District 6 City Councilwoman Gina Driscoll also said if the ordinance passes, St. Petersburg restaurants would only be able to provide plastic straws to customers upon request starting April 1, 2019.

Driscoll said Wednesday during a phone call with 10News that she expects the proposal to pass.

Several St. Petersburg restaurants and businesses have already voluntarily done away with plastic straws as part of the citywide campaign entitled “No Straws St. Pete.” Others provide plastic straws only at the request of patrons.

The proposal also bans the use of expanded polystyrene, also known as Styrofoam, by food service providers on city property. The ordinance states there is an expanded polystyrene exception "for the storage of raw meat, pork, poultry, fish and seafood products by a food service provider."

Driscoll noted the proposal includes certain exemptions such as medical facilities.

Under the proposed regulations, first-time offenders would receive a written warning. Second offenses – within a year of the first – would receive a $40 fine. The third offense would be an $80 fine. Businesses have 30 days to correct the violation.

“The real priority is to build awareness and educate,” Driscoll said. “ “Once people know what the problem is, they’re okay with being part of the solution.”

Driscoll said the city's enforcement will be complaint-based only, and not by the "plastic-straw police."

Sister station KING 5 reported Seattle’s ban on plastic straws and utensils went into effect in July. Fort Myers Beach embraced a similar plastic straw ban in April.

The big reason for the ban on plastic straws is they are polluting waterways. They are often found in the digestive systems of fish and marine life. Plastic straws also take thousands of years to decompose.

Many have seen the video online of a straw pulled from the nose of a sea turtle.

A few years ago, a voluntary ban on plastic straws went into effect in the city of Treasure Island. It started after a young boy found dozens of straws littering the beach.

Treasure Island city commissioners stopped short of passing an ordinance, partly because it could have a negative effect on businesses, mainly restaurants.

The reason restaurants might not support a plastic straw ban is because 100 plastic straws cost about $0.98 at retail price. Meanwhile, 100 environmentally-friendly paper straws cost about $8.23.

“There is some concern out there, but part of our education and outreach effort is focused on helping business owners find solutions,” Driscoll said.

Driscoll said the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce is helping business owners find alternatives to plastic straws and Styrofoam products.

“If you’re giving straws only by request only, you’re saving money right there,” Driscoll said.

Driscoll said one restaurant owner she talked to saved 75-90 percent on the cost of straws when it switched over to providing them upon customers' requests.

Last month, the St. Petersburg's Health, Energy, Resilience, and Sustainability (HERS) Committee also met to consider placing a fee on single-use shopping bags, which includes both plastic and paper. The committee decided to continue its discussion for the proposed single-use bag ordinance during its meeting on Jan. 10, 2019.

The St. Petersburg City Council meets at 3 p.m. Thursday.

Related: Straw bans: Good for environmentalists. Bad for people with disabilities?

Previous: St. Petersburg committee considers ordinance to make straws a request-only item

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