ST. PETERSBURG — Rather than quit cold turkey, the city gave restaurants and patrons a year to kick their plastic straw habit.
That year is almost up.
As the sun sets on 2019, so does the by-request-only nature of St. Petersburg’s voluntary single-use plastic straw ban. Next year begins an outright ban on the plastic drinking aids.
But before the ban kicks in, the rules could change slightly. City Council is considering adding a definition of plastic, which includes “bioplastic” straws made of renewable materials rather than petroleum, and other would-be alternatives.
If passed at Thursday’s City Council meeting, the new plastic definition could mean some straws that businesses had been using are no longer compliant. Brigitte Whitaker, the co-owner of Brew D Licious coffee shop on Central Avenue, said she isn’t sure her alternative straws, which she said are corn-based but retain the look and feel of plastic, still comply.
“I don’t know, and I don’t really care,” she said.
She said she’s going to exhaust her current supply, which should take her into December. After that, she said she’s not sure if she’ll reorder that brand or another. Her corn-based straws are already double the price, she said, and she won’t do what some establishments have done by switching to paper or pasta straws. Paper straws disintegrate, she said, and pasta ones alter the flavor of her coffee.
“If you want to put me in straw jail,” she said, “do it.”
Whitaker’s criticism notwithstanding, officials say the business community at large is ready for the ban to go into full effect.
During 2019, city workers and volunteers with the Suncoast Rise Above Plastics Coalition visited all 656 businesses in the city that use straws, some businesses more than once. Workers scored each business on a 1-10 scale about how receptive they seemed to the plastic straw ban. About two-thirds of the businesses were scored a five or higher — neutral or enthusiastic about it — said coalition co-chair Emer Kelly.
“The vast majority of St. Pete businesses are supportive, they understand it’s important for the environment and the community,” she said.
Other proposed changes at Thursday’s meeting include extending the by-request-only mandate to acceptable alternative straws — except at drive-throughs, where compliant non-plastic straws could still come with drinks automatically.
There is also an exemption for customers with a physical or medical need for a plastic drinking straw.
Council member Gina Driscoll, who championed the issue, said the plastic straw ban “is just the start of a larger effort to reduce the amount of waste that we’re putting out there in the first place.”
Next year, the City Council plans to discuss implementing a fee for plastic bags at grocery stores, an idea that was tabled due a state law preempting cities from banning them.
“Straws are a small part of the problem, but in a way, that made it the best place to start," Driscoll said, "with something small that most of us can go without.”