Plastic straw bans in Florida have had a long, complicated history. These complications have led to confusion as to where, exactly, the state’s position lies in this epic saga and the future of plastic straws, plastic bags, and other single-use plastic products in the state.
Support for a Plastic Straw Ban
Many proponents of the plastic straw ban cite evidence illustrating the danger these products pose to our environment. Drinking straws are currently one of the main contributors to pollution in the world’s oceans, causing ill-effects to ocean marine life, but to humans as well. As these microplastics break down, they enter our groundwater and food supply.
Consuming these microplastics causes them to break down inside the body, potentially releasing dangerous chemicals as the substance makes its way through the digestive tract. These chemicals cause cancer of various organs and mutations in human DNA. Chemical by-products also build up in our systems and interfere with the production of hormones necessary for a healthy body.
Opposition to the Straw Ban
Opponents of the plastic straw ban cite the burden this legislation will place on restaurants and bars to provide a suitable alternative. The Florida Retail Federation represents several big-name retailers in the state. They have a reputation for successfully suing local municipalities that attempt to place restrictions on the distribution of single-use plastic straws.
Persons with disabilities that require plastic straws to consume beverages or food also tend to be against these types of bans as they place the burden of the necessary accommodation squarely on the shoulders of the disabled.
Against this backdrop, the Florida state legislature placed a five-year moratorium on local governments in 2019 to keep them from enforcing restrictions on plastic straws until the state completes an environmental impact study.
Cities are Taking Local Action
However, many Florida cities and municipalities are not waiting for the study’s completion before implementing local bans and creating straw ordinances. To date, more than ten cities in the state have taken local control and already have either begun phasing out of plastic straws or have entirely banned them altogether.
Miami Beach and Fort Lauderdale have some of the most restrictive regulations in the state, prohibiting the sale and distribution of plastic straws within city limits.
Other local governments, like Coral Gables, are taking a slower, more conservative approach to regulate plastic straws. Coral Gables banned the straws from city facilities, and city vendors and contractors restricted their use.
On a statewide level, current Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has stated a preference for allowing local governments to make their own decision on the plastic straw issue without imposing bans on plastic from the state.
Becoming Part of the Solution
Several non-profit organizations have taken on the task of lessening the environmental impacts of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans, with the Surfrider Foundation being one of the largest in the country.
The Surfrider Foundation plays a vital role in saving Florida’s coral reef from the damaging effects of plastic pollution. Florida Regional Manager Holly Parker oversees the 11 Florida chapters of the organization. Surfrider has played a significant role in protecting the state’s natural areas.
Most Floridians agree that single-use plastics are a problem. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection promotes an initiative to encourage Floridians to pledge to “Skip the Straw” for one week to reduce plastic consumption and pollution. The Florida DEP also holds several statewide clean-ups per year that are very well received.
Plastic Straw Alternatives
There are alternative items to single-use plastic straws, and they each have their pros and cons. Finding a disability-friendly option is a bit more complicated than many people realize. For individuals who rely on plastic straws to receive food or beverages, the quest to find a suitable alternative is critical.
Paper straws are the most prolific substitute for plastic; however, paper straws do have some drawbacks. Paper straws fall apart quickly and can become a choking hazard if part of the straw is aspirated. Metal straws are reusable and will last for years of use, but they can present safety risks. Properly cleaning metal straws can also present challenges.
Hay straws are an affordable, disposable option that does not fall apart like paper straws and is compostable. Reusable bamboo straws would eliminate the hot liquid issue with metal straws, but these straws cannot bend and are pretty expensive.
Finding a solution to the problem of plastic straws is a highly complex situation. And while Florida is certainly not alone in this challenge of creating and enforcing plastic straw bans, its many miles of beautiful beaches may offer a unique view of the dangers that inaction will have on our world.