TREASURE ISLAND — After listening to appeals from local environmental groups and residents, city commissioners are moving ahead with an ordinance that would ban plastic drinking straws and stirrers on beaches.
Despite arguments that current litter laws already address the issue, most commissioners agreed that a ban directed at beachfront businesses giving out plastic straws and residents bringing them to the beach would be a "good first step" at protecting wildlife harmed by plastics.
"People across the globe are cheering us on right now," Julie Featherston, a Treasure Island resident, told commissioners. Featherston and her 5-year-old son, Harper, attracted social media attention recently when she got fed up with picking up straws on the beach near Caddy's on the Beach and turned to Facebook to publicize the issue.
Featherston presented a petition with 1,200 names to commissioners asking for a local ordinance to prohibit plastic straws.
Representatives of Environment Florida and Suncoast Surfrider Foundation said a straw ban would be "a great step in the right direction" of eliminating plastics that are harmful to wildlife, such as sea turtles.
While several large beachfront hotels on the island have agreed to voluntarily switch to paper straws, some hoteliers said they didn't think a ban was needed.
"We are fully on board now," said Clyde Smith, general manager of the Bilmar Beach Resort, who held up a handful of paper straws he had ordered to replace the plastic ones. "I don't think an individual law is the answer. There is a litter law that covers this. We need to focus on education and not punish everyone for the sins of a few."
Resident Richard Harris urged commissioners to try a six-month voluntary ban to see if that would reduce straws on the beach and if not, then pass an ordinance.
But Commissioner Tim Ramsberger said a ban would "cut off the problem at the source," although he preferred more enforcement of the litter laws.
His statement that "I wish we could ban cigarettes" drew loud applause from the audience.
Mayor Robert Minning questioned the ban since businesses were cooperating, but Commissioner Alan Bildz said "right now, there is a lot of peer pressure" for businesses to comply and an ordinance would make sure voluntary compliance would last.
City Manager Reid Silverboard said he would look at a North Miami Beach ordinance that was adopted in 2012 and draft one for commissioners to consider.