By Cassidy Strauss, Flagler Student
Sen. Travis Hutson, R- Palm Coast, proposed a bill in the beginning of March which would put a 5-year moratorium on plastic straws in Florida until a study on their environmental effects is concluded.
The bill, SB 588, would put a pause on single-use plastics. Hutson thinks businesses should voluntarily cut back on their use of straws because he is “just not a fan of government on the state or local level telling a business what to do” (The Gainesville Sun).
This bill will prohibit local governments from banning single-use plastic straws.
By 2050 there is expected to be more plastic than fish in the sea by weight, according to the World Economic Forum.
In St. Augustine, some businesses that are located close to the water are already making the transition to more environmentally alternatives. Big restaurants on the located on the waterfront are becoming more conscious of the impact their products have on the coast.
Meehan’s Irish Pub and Seafood House, located at 20 Avenida Menendez, decided to make the switch to biodegradable (plant-based) straws because it is a progressive move towards protecting the environment, says manager, Sean Fitzpatrick.
“We were one of the first establishments to switch to “green” products in town. In our cost analysis, we determined to accept the increased cost as part of our own conservation plan,” he said.
Fitzpatrick says that the location of Meehan’s is what motivated them to make the switch. He says that the restaurant has received positive feedback from the community and hopes that their initiative will promote environmental awareness throughout the community.
“We believe it is important to protect the future and as a small business in a small community, we try to be good stewards of the environment around us. Meehan’s plans to be around for a long time and that can only be done with sustainability on multiple fronts. We feel switching to biodegradable products was the right thing to do. We currently operate with all of our take-out packaging being either recyclable or biodegradable.”
OC White’s Seafood and Spirits uses biodegradable and paper straws depending on who puts in the order. The restaurant started doing this about a year ago, according to server Sabrina Esposito.
“We don’t use any plastic products for to-go cups and to-go containers or bags,” she said. “I don’t think any restaurants by the marina [Matanzas River] should be using plastic products.”
In Gainesville, city commissioners are moving forward with a Styrofoam and plastic bag ban that will go into effect Aug. 1.
Salt Life, a restaurant that encompasses oceanic themes throughout its menu and aesthetic, still uses plastic straws, despite its proximity to the beach. However, recently the company has asked its employees to give straws only to customers who ask for them.
A St. Petersburg ordinance enforces a “straw by request” rule, a trend that is popping up here, too.
“Customers ask for straws a lot. I always say to them that we aren’t putting straws in every drink because we’re trying to be environmentally friendly and it makes them feel bad… but they still want one,” said Morgan DiPalma, a Salt Life server.
DiPalma says that she thinks that they should be doing more.
“Salt Life is such a successful place. We’re beachy people and we’re [the company] not doing our best to protect it.”
The Conch House, with tiki huts hovering over the Salt Run Inlet, attracts tourists and advertises itself by saying “we’re not just on the water, we’re over the water!” The restaurant made the switch to paper straws three months ago.
The Conch House still uses plastic to-go containers and bags, and uses styrofoam cups but David Ponce, vice president of The Conch House, says the restaurant hopes to collaborate with a local farmer who is advertising his biodegradable to-go containers which break-down in two weeks.
The Surfrider Foundation’s Holly Parker does not think that a moratorium is what Florida needs.
“At every single cleanup we conduct, we find plastics. In fact, generally if you clean the beach for five minutes, you’ll leave with a fistful of straws,” Parker said. “We don’t need a study. We need action.”
Under Hutson’s proposal, any local government that tries to enforce a straw ban would have to pay $25,000 in fines. However, St. Augustine restaurants are gradually choosing to make the switch on their own.