STUART — Monday likely will be the last time those who are interested can help to significantly shape a citywide straw ban that could begin in 2020.
The law, as currently defined, would ban all straws — plastic and alternative — by 2021, and does not provide an opportunity for restaurants to apply for an exemption.
The city also is considering only to allow compostable items at city events and on city property, effectively banning all plastics and plastic foam, like Styrofoam, despite the city not having a composting facility.
City officials have been examining how best to approach a plastic straw ban, while watching developments in high-profile legal battles in Coral Gables, and hoping to avoid its own legal fallout.
The statewide debate over plastics has raised the profile on how much power local municipalities have to set their own rules.
While Stuart officials watch what’s happening at the state level, other local communities are watching Stuart, and evaluating if they want to follow in the city’s footsteps.
“For me, the answer is really clear,” said Commissioner Mike Meier, who has stewarded the city’s conversation on plastics. “Everybody wants the change and they’re waiting for the government to get its act together and make a change.”
The workshop is 2:30 p.m. at City Hall, 121 S.W. Flagler Ave.
As currently written, food service businesses in 2020 would not be able to offer straws or have them on display. They only would be available upon request.
By 2021, straws still would be available upon request, but only if they are non-plastic, such as paper or bamboo.
Hospitals, assisted living facilities, nursing homes and medical and dental practices could apply for an exemption.
For now, businesses would not be exempt, and there is no avenue for them to apply for an exemption.
But does the ban on straws make sense without the backing of other cities and counties on the Treasure Coast?
At a recent Martin County Commission, staff only offered an update on the county’s goals to reduce waste, but ultimately, it is waiting to see how Stuart proceeds.
“I’ve heard from staff at the county that they are looking to us as leaders,” Meier said. “I’ve heard those words verbatim.”
At prior workshops, city commissioners wondered about the effectiveness of a ban on certain plastic items, like Styrofoam, and not others at city events and on city property.
“Even though the constituents will be trying to use ‘recyclable plastic,’ it will still be placed in the garbage receptacles because it will be combined with food products,” a staff report on the law reads. “As a result, the landfill will end up with ‘recyclable plastics’ instead of single use plastics.”
Instead, the city is trying only to allow items that can be compostable.
“The theory is that the compostable products will replace the plastics in the landfill,” the staff report reads, “and will ultimately degrade whereas the plastic will last forever.”
The compostable materials staff are recommending though, like biodegradable plastics, are not worthwhile, without having access to an industrial compostable facility, Meier said.
“I fear we’re going to do this feel-good stuff,” Meier said.
Meier said he plans to push the commission to look at a regional effort to compost.
Without a plan for composting, Meier said, “I worry it’s going to cost folks more and not address the problem at all, sadly.”
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