Curious to know the impact plastic pollution plays in the environment? Just watch WLRN’s “Troubled Waters: A Turtle’s Tale,” or the 2016 documentary “A Plastic Ocean,” which Islamorada residents had the opportunity to view back in April at Founders Park.
In addition to the documentaries, plenty of reports are popping up regarding whales washing ashore on beaches. A report by National Geographic in March tells the story of a young emaciated-looking whale in the Davao Gulf in the Philippines, which died with more than 88 pounds of plastic stashed into its belly.
“Plastic was just bursting out of its stomach,” said marine mammal expert Darrell Blatchley to National Geographic. And it’s not just whales. Dolphins, birds and fish are also consuming minuscule plastic particles that were once straws, sandwich baggies and shopping bags, to name a few.
Here in the Keys, a number of hotels, restaurants and charter boats have cut plastic out of their operation. And while alternatives may cost them a little more, local owners are cognizant of the implications involved with plastic. And they’re taking initiative as a result.
Last month, Key West City Commission approved an ordinance banning the use and distribution of plastic straws and stirrers. The ordinance was seen as necessary for the preservation of the city’s environment and the public welfare of residents and visitors and future generations. During an Islamorada Village Council meeting in late August, talks over banning straws came to the forefront with Vice Mayor Mike Forster bringing it forward. With Key West implementing a ban, Forster said, the village should follow suit.
“I went to WLRN’s documentary and I came out very sad, but hopeful that any little difference we make is a difference in the right direction,” he said. “Do I think straws are the silver bullet that’s going to make everything great? I don’t. If you have the opportunity to start somewhere, then why not take advantage of that low-hanging fruit?”
Forster and fellow council members were in attendance for the League of Cities convention a few months ago. There, Gov. Ron DeSantis addressed attendees, and part of his talk focused on plastic straws. DeSantis acknowledged that he wouldn’t preempt or veto such an ordinance, if a local government chose to outlaw straws.
The owner of Mangrove Mike’s, Forster says he raised prices 20 cents per item to cover costs to go eco-friendly.
“It’s not a major burden that everybody puts it to be,” he said.
Capt. Matt Bellinger said he used to buy a case of water in plastic bottles for $2.99. Now, he’s purchasing a case of aluminum can water for $8.
“We don’t let plastic on our boats now,” he said. “You can’t get on my boat with a sandwich in a plastic bag.”
But questions loom over the practicality of such ordinances — specifically the enforcement and the fact that not everyone will be caught and fined. Councilman Jim Mooney says he’s all for an ordinance and described it as “feel-good.” However, he said, it’s not practical.
“If you can’t enforce it, then why don’t you just do more education?” he said. “We’re not going to change people’s habits. If you put rules on the books and can’t enforce them, what good are they?”
Councilman Ken Davis said people started changing voluntarily when discussion was last heard over such an ordinance to ban plastic. Davis said the village should provide some outreach to businesses.
“If we give that a good hard push and that doesn’t work, I’ll jump on this with you (Forster) with both feet,” Davis said. “Key West passed their ordinance because they’re Key West. I think we can push it from the village and we can get this done. I agree, Key West needed to pass an ordinance, but I don’t think Islamorada does.”
Mayor Deb Gillis said such an ordinance could be the first of several. She said she’d like to have a discussion about toxic sunscreens.
“I think it’s a combination of things,” she said. “We need to reduce the amount of plastics in the water, but it’s also the health of the water, the health of the turtles and the whales that ingest this stuff. It’s a new world and we need to do as much as we can within reason.”