Kids, environmentalists and business attend straw hearing

LaPlata, MD – The conversation felt very one sided for most of the evening as environmental activists came out in strong numbers to support banning straws across Charles County restaurants.

On Oct. 16, the Charles County Board of Commissioners held a public hearing on Bill No. 2018-07 to try and gauge public interest in banning plastic drinking straws.

With 15 members of the public set to speak, one might expect a very good discussion on what the pros and cons of such legislature could mean to the county. When all was done, only two of the 15 speakers opposed the bill. Those oppositions included a representative from Sky Zone and the Restaurant Association of Maryland.

Commenters from the community did well in pointing out how hundreds of millions of plastic straws are used every day in the United States. Environmentally focused organizations such as the Port Tobacco River Conservancy among others came out in favor of the bill. One organization, the Alice Ferguson Foundation, even distributed reusable metal straws at the hearing and suggested using them as a solution.

Another solution one community member pointed out came from the fact that one company is producing almost all paper straws in the country, Aardvark Straws. This person then went on to suggest letting the company open a manufacturing plant in Charles County would promote business in the community and hopefully drive down costs of paper straws.

However, one point this community member didn’t acknowledge was that Aardvark Straws was acquired by Hoffmaster Group back around August. Hoffmaster Group is a manufacturer of disposable table utensils and their acquisition was supposed to help keep up with the demand for paper straws while significantly lowering costs.

The biggest opponent of the bill that came out to speak was the Restaurant Association of Maryland. Senior Vice President Melvin Thompson expressed major concerns in terminology used in the bill, cost implications of the change and questionable impact the change would have.

“According to industry suppliers, the cost of a [PLA-Special biodegradable plastic] straw alternative is about double the cost of plastic straws currently used,” Thompson stated. “Paper straw alternatives are at least triple the cost of plastic straws, and can have issues regarding performance and durability.”

Additionally, Thompson cited how many plastic straw alternatives will not break down quickly in the litter stream and are designed only to break down in “municipal or industrial composting facilities” that the county doesn’t have.

“This proposed ban would levy a costly burden on county restaurants without quantifiable environmental benefit because the compostable alternatives would end up in the same landfill,” Thompson said. “…We would welcome the opportunity to participate in a future work session to fully vet these issues.”

However, the real story for the evening was the six students from the J.C. Parks Elementary School “Green Team” who went before the commissioners to briefly say why they supported the straw ban.

When this bill was originally introduced, these students were cited by Commissioners’ President Peter Murphy [D] as the inspiration for this legislation. Each child received applause from the audience and from the board for their brief personal testimonies.

Eventually, the commissioners voted to keep the record open for public comments until Oct. 22. Additionally, they have tentatively scheduled a work session for the bill at their next meeting Oct. 23.