Village of Islamorada: Re-Think the Proposed Ban on Plastic Straws

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On July 19 the Islamorada Village Council voted to ban “plastic straws” everywhere in the Village including personal property (if a permit is required). There is no doubt that plastic in the ocean is huge problem. The Keys Weekly covered the problem in the March 2, 2018 issue and the “Reef Relief” programs are effective and expanding.

Voluntary programs like Reef Relief’s “Skip The Straw” are great. But, the governmental action proposed by the Village (second reading for approval is August 9) is too broad, too punitive, and simultaneously, trivial.

The proposed ordinance bans the use, sale, or distribution of plastic straws in the Village except in schools, other government facilities, or medical facilities. There is a sentence that seems to allow the use of straws on private property if a Special Event Permit is not required, but the sentence is long, convoluted, and open to interpretation. And, this is a total ban with a $250 fine! Yes, juice boxes seem to be exempt. When the Treasure Village Montessori school students walk to Founders Park, if someone brings a plastic straw, does anyone get a citation?

This action means that stores, restaurants, civic groups, and churches in the Village face a $250 fine if anyone uses a plastic straw in the wrong place or time. This includes families sitting in a park who bring a straw from home and “give, deploy, or deliver” it to their children. Cringe at the thought of a YouTube video showing a crying mother receiving a $250 citation from an “Enforcement Officer” in Islamorada’s Founders Park. Put that on TripAdvisor.

Citizens might ask, “Who is this “enforcement officer”? Hopefully not a Deputy Sheriff. Perhaps a Building Inspector? The Electrical Inspector is going to enforce the straw ban? How much will we pay an enforcement agent to inspect straws in use to determine if a colorful straw is paper or plastic? Is this enforcement action a good use of the citizens’ money? If you don’t “really” intend to enforce the ordinance, why create it?

The definition of the offending straw in the proposed ordinance is also open to argument. The way it is written, the top of a child’s Sippy Cup fits nicely into the definition. Is a “swizzle stick” a plastic straw? The Enforcement Agent would have to determine if it meant to use “suction.” Is the Village Council ready to defend this definition of a straw in court?

What about the disabled? The proposed ordinance exempts medical facilities, but there is no exemption for disabled persons who needs to drink from a straw. Is this an open invitation to a class action ADA lawsuit?

This is a lot of government effort for straws. We have frequent images from the Turtle Hospital showing the horrific impact of plastic can rings.  Start by banning plastic can rings and the community will praise your efforts as important, compassionate, and local.

Those of you who live on a shoreline, have you ever picked up a plastic straw? No? Have you ever picked up a plastic water bottle? Sure! Often! If Village Government wants to signal its virtue and concern by banning harmful plastic, tackle those water bottles. We all see plastic water bottles floating on our waters and on our shores. Ban those plastic water bottles and you will have support. Be brave. Be bold. Don’t be seen as a trivial and bureaucratic irritant by banning straws.

The proposed ordinance cites the actions of several other Florida communities with plastic straw bans as a reason to approve this ban. “Everybody Else is Doing it” has never been a good justification for any action. Let us pause to recall unisex bathrooms.

The proposed ordinance is flawed in concept and in execution and should be withdrawn. If this ordinance passes, people in the Village will drink from Styrofoam cups with plastic lids and paper straws. It puts a burden on families and businesses in the Village that is more of an irritation than a real help. The underlying idea is more about virtue signaling and expressing concern than doing something real. But the “feel good” aspect of this action falls apart when it touches families. Either address the real problems of plastic can rings, water bottles, bags, balloons, and other materials or withdraw this proposed ordinance and instead support the actions of voluntary groups like Reef Relief. Don’t use Village ordinances simply to signal virtue.

— Frank Derfler, Islamorada

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1 COMMENT

  1. Single use plastic, including plastic straws, has been clearly identified as a threat to our oceans, marine life, and our own water supply. The Village has taken a very important step in protecting the natural environment of the Keys and Islamorada by restricting its use within the Village limits. It’s unclear to me why you, or anyone, would take a stand against environmental protection that is so easy to comply with. That’s the reason so many areas are taking up this stand. And your argument is cost of enforcement? Why have any laws if we’re going to question the cost of enforcement then. You want to ban plastic rings? I agree and am all for it. Plastic bags too while you’re at it. Why question where we start, as long as we start? I applaud the Village for taking a stand to protect the natural resources that make the Keys the special place it is.

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