Florida Keys

Key West takes the first step to ban plastic straws

The days of plastic straws in Key West are numbered.

With a 7-0 vote Tuesday night, the Key West City Commission voted to ban single-use plastic straws across the island.

It’s not law yet. To hit the books, the commission must approve it in a second vote at an upcoming meeting.

But none of the commissioners Tuesday voiced any opposition to the new law and no one showed up to protest the plan.

While plastics pervade the oceans — an estimated 150 million metric tons of plastic are in the ocean and we add another 8 million tons each year, according to the Stanford Center for Ocean Solutions — plastic straws make up less than 1 percent of the problem, the researchers say.

But Tuesday night’s decision created a feel-good moment at City Hall and commissioners framed the decision as a first step in banning more plastic products.

“It’s a big night for the environment,” said Ed Russo, a board member of the nonprofit environmental group Reef Relief. “Congratulations.”

While the original language of the proposed law called for making it unlawful for anyone to use or possess a plastic straw, commissioners were in favor of amending the language so that it doesn’t seem like a new criminal law.

“I don’t like criminalizing more things,” said Commissioner Greg Davila. “We can possess an assault rifle and marijuana but won’t be able to possess a plastic straw?”

Also, commissioners want to make an exception for those who have disabilities or medical needs that require using straws.

“The whole point of this is to get voluntary compliance,” said Commissioner Sam Kaufman. “We’re not really asking the code compliance office to go to people’s homes and look for straws. The point here is to encourage the public to be more conscious as to how we’re treating our environment.”

One advocate of the ban said the timing of the new law — 2020 — is key to keeping the ban in place.

“The window of opportunity may be closing soon,” said Mark Songer, of the environmental protection group Last Stand. “It’s very important this law take effect Jan 1, 2020, prior to the next session of the Florida Legislature.”

San Francisco Plastic Straw Ban
This July 17, 2018 photo shows wrapped plastic straws at a bubble tea cafe in San Francisco. Eco-conscious San Francisco joins the city of Seattle in banning plastic straws, along with tiny coffee stirrers and cup pluggers, as part of an effort to reduce plastic waste. It also makes single-use food and drink side items available upon request and phases out the use of fluorinated wrappers and to-go containers. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu) Jeff Chiu AP

“This is the first step to hopefully seeing more ordinances against single-use plastics,” said Dora DeMaria, the education manager of Reef Relief. “We care about our environment and we want to be leaders in fixing it up.”

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Key West has been on a roll in banning items city leaders believe threaten the environment.

Earlier this year, the commission banned the sale and distribution of sunscreen that contain oxybenzone and octinoxate. That ban will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2021.

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In June, Key West commissioners banned polystyrene, or Styrofoam products, from being used on city property during events. A state law, recently upheld by an appeals court, prevents cities from banning it citywide.

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And months later, the commission banned the use of glyphosate, the main ingredient in the popular weed-killer Roundup, by city workers. But the commissioners stopped short of trying to ban the herbicide on private property.