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STUART — To keep more plastic out of the ocean and away from marine life, would you give up using plastic straws at your favorite restaurants?
To prove it, commissioners on Tuesday will sign a resolution that encourages county businesses to voluntarily reduce or stop using single-use plastic straws and polystyrene products like Styrofoam.
The goal is to help eliminate the 8.8 million tons of plastic pollution that flow into the oceans each year, which is expected to double by 2025, according to the resolution drafted by county staff.
Glass straws, like those seen here on an outside table overlooking the south fork of the St. Lucie River in Stuart on Thursday, April 18, 2019, are used for drinks served in-house at Gilbert's Coffee Bar, while "HAY! Straws" are used for drinks to-go. (Photo: XAVIER MASCAREÑAS/TCPALM)
The resolution creates an outreach campaign to educate the public, students and businesses about the harm created by plastic straws and plastic in general to marine life and ocean environments.
Plastic straws make up about 2,000 tons of the ocean’s plastic waste. According to the Treasure Coast Chapter of Surfrider Foundation, up to 500 million straws are used every day in the United States.
County Commission Chairman Ed Ciampi suggested the initiative last year after returning from Europe, where plastic grocery bags aren’t used, he said, and plastic straws are rare.
“Lots of us realize that flooding the ocean with all this plastic waste, there’s no logical solution,” he said, “except we have to stop using as much as we do.”
The problem is plastic straws and polystyrene products aren’t biodegradable. The materials break up into smaller, microplastic pieces which are ingested by marine life "generating a serious threat to … wildlife and to human health,” the resolution states.
By reducing plastic littering oceans, the hope is to avoid a repeat of the 2015 viral video of marine biologists pulling a plastic straw from the nose of a sea turtle.
Martin County would be the first Treasure Coast government to pass a resolution designed to encourage restaurants and the public to go plastic-free. Stuart is partnering with the county and in May expects to pass a similar resolution, city spokesman Ben Hogarth said.
“Most businesses are very receptive to it,” he said, “especially once they realize that the whole concept is to not automatically assume that a customer is going to want a straw.”
Florida law prevents local governments from outright banning the use of plastic bags or straws. But there’s a trend of Florida coastal cities, including Delray Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Coral Gables, moving to ditch plastics harmful to sea life.
Last year, Seattle was the first major U.S city to enact a ban on plastic straws and utensils. Soon after, Starbucks announced it would phase out plastic straws by 2020. Royal Caribbean cruise line, Marriott and other hotels are doing the same.
At the Hutchinson Shores Resort and Spa on Hutchinson Island, general manager Ed Griffin said avoiding plastic straws was a “no brainer.”
He believes other businesses will back the county’s move to drop plastic straws or switch to plant-based alternatives.
“We flipped over a year ago to all paper straws,” Griffin said. “They break down within days, verses five years or a hundred years based on plastic straws.”
Abigail Rogan, owner of Gilbert’s Coffee Bar, at the Sunset Bay Marina & Anchorage, echoed Griffin’s sentiment.
Barista Natalie Duffield (right), of Port St. Lucie, hands a glass of fresh-brewed iced tea — served with a glass straw — to Karen Knott, of Jensen Beach, at Gilbert's Coffee Bar overlooking the south fork of the St. Lucie River on Thursday, April 18, 2019, in Stuart. Gilbert's was designated as "ocean friendly" by the Surfrider Foundation for their commitment to reducing plastic waste and eliminating use of expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam. Business owner Abigail Rogan said, "For me, starting my first small business in our town and being a waterfront town, every little choice I make for Gilbert's and our brand is intentional." (Photo: XAVIER MASCAREÑAS/TCPALM)
“We’re at a marina,” she said. “We wanted to make sure the things we were ... using on a day-to-day basis were good for our environment.”
Gilbert's is one of a few restaurants in Martin County certified by the Surfrider Foundation as "Ocean Friendly," along with Modern Juice Co., and Fruits & Roots Vegan Cafe in Stuart.
It requires meeting a set of standards, including recycling and not using Styrofoam or single-serve plastics.
At Fruits & Roots, customers get straws made of compostable corn plastic, manager Seth Fraiman said.
“We try to use eco-friendly to-go wares,” he said. “Some of our containers are made from recycled sugar cane waste.”
Customers at Modern Juice Company can get a plastic straw but they stock cardboard ones too, manager Tierney Henkel said.
Tom Smith, chair of the Treasure Coast Chapter of Surfrider Foundation, said he commends Martin County and Stuart for seeking to eliminate single-use plastic products.
“You just need to see a little bit of compelling evidence that birds and fish are ingesting plastics, and it’s not good for them or their health,” he said.
“Millions of tons of plastics flow into our oceans every year,” Perry said. “Practically all of that comes from shorelines and things we do near shores.”
“If a waiter says 'Can I get you a drink' … you immediately should say ‘no plastic straws, please,’” Perry said. “What that does is get that restaurant into the habit of serving it as an option.”
In addition to forming partnerships with Stuart and local environmental groups, Martin County’s resolution will:
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