Miami Beach Wants to Expand Its Ban on Plastic Straws

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In 2012, Miami Beach became one of the first cities in the nation to enact a partial ban on plastic straws. Since then, the so-called straw wars have heated up: Seattle, Malibu, Santa Barbara, and Oakland recently passed ordinances banning their use, and New York City is mulling a similar move. Meanwhile, businesses such as Starbucks and Royal Caribbean have announced plans to ditch the plastic tubes.

Now Miami Beach is set to expand its original ban. The 2012 ordinance only prohibits businesses from giving single-use straws to people on the beach. Under a proposal commissioners will consider next Wednesday, the ban would extend to all of the city's beaches, parks, piers, docks, marinas, and boat ramps and would include single-use plastic stirrers as well.

"I realize by 2050, there's going to be more plastic in the ocean than fish," says Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, one of the bill's three sponsors. "So we all need to do our part."

Americans use an estimated 172 million straws a day. Some of them wind up in the ocean — sometimes because of littering, other times because they were caught by the wind and washed into storm drains.

Thirty percent of turtles and 71 percent of seabirds have been found with plastics in their stomachs, research shows. And according to a survey of beach cleanups by the Ocean Conservancy, straws came in as the seventh most common type of beach trash.

But the anti-plastic-straw fervor has picked up only recently. That's probably partly due to a hard-to-watch viral video in which scientists pry a straw from the nostril of a bleeding sea turtle.

"That had a huge impact on me," Rosen Gonzalez says.

As environmentalists pushed for bans on plastic straw, they were joined by the likes of Tom Brady and Entourage's Adrian Grenier. A documentary about the havoc wreaked by plastic straws won awards in the indie-film world. Campaigns such as #StrawsSuck and #StopSucking gained momentum. In Florida, officials in the towns of Surfside and Fort Myers Beach passed bans.

The movement is not without its critics. Advocates for people with disabilities say plastic straws are essential for those with limited mobility. Others say straws rank low on the list of plastics that most harm the environment. Florida cities don't have the option of passing bans on some of those bigger-ticket items, however, thanks to state legislators making it illegal for local governments to regulate plastic bags or Styrofoam.

The Miami Beach ordinance, which is being sponsored by Rosen Gonzalez, Mayor Dan Gelber, and Commissioner Michael Gongora, would go into effect in February 2019 after a public education campaign and a warning period.

"It's enough of a difference," Rosen Gonzalez says. "We're doing everything we can."  

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