TREASURE ISLAND — Commissioners took a step back Tuesday from an outright ban on plastic straws on the city's beaches, instead opting to see how voluntary compliance will work.
The idea of outlawing plastic one-time-use straws was initiated by Treasure Island resident Julie Featherston, who pushed for a legal way to protect sea life from harmful plastics littering the beach.
She provoked social media interest last year after posting a picture on Facebook of dozens of straws she and her son had collected from the beach. A petition to ban plastic straw use in the city garnered hundreds of signatures.
But in a first debate over an ordinance that would have restricted plastic straw use on the beaches and in nearby restaurants and stores, commissioners thought the proposal went too far.
They decided to give businesses six months to voluntarily abide by the no-plastics rule before deciding whether to rework and adopt an ordinance.
Mayor Bob Minning said that in recent months, many restaurant owners had switched to paper straws and adopting an ordinance could have "many, many unintended consequences."
Commissioner Phil Collins agreed.
"I think it would be ridiculous to arrest someone for having straws on the beach," he said. "It could do more harm than good."
But police Chief Armand Boudreau explained that under the law, a person in violation would be given a warning and future violations would mean a fine.
"They wouldn't go to court unless they were contesting the citation," he said.
City Manager Reid Silverboard said the ordinance was designed to address plastic straw use mainly in restaurants and retail stores where customers take out food and beverages. Under the proposal, even straws in children's juice boxes would be banned.
"Under this ordinance, Publix would be in violation," Commissioner Tim Ramsberger said. "I do think we need to have this on the books, but this is too broad."
Commissioner Alan Bildz, while agreeing that the proposed ordinance "goes a little too far," said he still supported a legal ban against businesses offering plastic straws to patrons.
"I have a hard time understanding that if a voluntary ban is working, how can it still be a hardship?" he said in reference to business owners and chamber officials who decried the impact an ordinance could have.
The proposal drew differing opinions from those in attendance at Tuesday's City Commission meeting.
Resident Richard Harrison said a recent beach cleanup by the Sunset Beach Civic Association found significantly fewer plastic straws.
"The voluntary ban is working. Let's give it a chance," he said.
Ken Halpern from Caddy's on the Beach restaurant said his business is now exclusively using paper straws.
"Our costs are slightly up, but we expected that," he said. "We want this to be voluntary. We are in it for the long haul."
Featherston, however, said unwanted plastics are a huge problem everywhere and quoted a new study that predicts the plastic pollution in the ocean will outweigh fish by 2050.
Commissioner Patrick Jeffares said plastic straws should just be added as an illegal item to the city's litter ordinance.
"I don't think this would be a law enforcement problem," he said.
Commissioners decided not to move ahead on the proposed ordinance but instead revisit the issue in July to see how voluntary compliance was going.
After the meeting, Featherston said she thought the delay "gives us an opportunity to prove that a voluntary ban will not be 100 percent effective" and that an ordinance is "the only viable solution to our overwhelming plastic pollution problem."