More than 90 percent of St. Petersburg businesses impacted by the city’s new ordinance on single-use plastic straws generally approve of the regulations, a survey by city staff and volunteers has found.
The findings come as the city prepares to move into a new phase of the ordinance adopted late last year. It allowed restaurants and most other food establishments to give out plastic single-use straws on a request-only basis this year. A full ban on single-use straws was scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1, 2020.
Next month, however, the St. Petersburg City Council will consider revising the ordinance, so that after the first of the year, food service establishments can still give out single-use straws if they are made out of an alternative material to plastic and if a customer requests them.
The proposed modification gives businesses back up to possibly offset any additional cost of alternatives and it reduces waste at its source, city staff said in a memo.
Environmentalists say plastic straws are a major contributor to coastline pollution.
“Straws are just one small part of the problem, but just by starting this conversation almost two years ago, it quickly led to the larger discussion about single-use plastics and how we truly all need to do our part to reduce what we’re putting out there in the first place,” said St. Petersburg City Council member Gina Driscoll, who led the effort to adopt the ordinance. “I’m hoping this will open the door for us to have more conversations about additional ways that we can lead the way throughout the region and the state of Florida as we seem to continually face the threat of those who are working against these efforts.”
The city council got an update Thursday on the measure, which also bans the use of expanded polystyrene, also known as Styrofoam, on city-owned property.
City staff and volunteers from the Suncoast Rise Above Plastics Coalition have spent the past several months doing in-person visits with every business impacted by the new law, said Alex Hancock, sustainability coordinator for the city.
The city expected to reach 656 businesses this year and exceeded that target, with in-person visits to 665 businesses as of Oct. 3. During those visits, volunteers and city staff were asked to gauge the manager’s feelings or attitude toward the regulations on a scale of one to 10, with one being bad and 10 being great. The average rating of business attitudes towards the regulations was 7.4.
Concerns focused on the cost and quality of alternatives to plastic straws. Businesses may be able to bring down the cost of alternative products through bulk purchases, Hancock told the City Council.
Another concern was customer satisfaction. “Some businesses reported they switched to a different alternative then switched back to plastics so they are taking this year to experiment with different products and figure out what works best for their customer base,” Hancock said.
There also were issues around equity and access. The city printed a brochure providing information about the new ordinance, but it’s only in English, creating a language barrier at some restaurants. Hancock hopes to get it translated into Spanish and potentially other languages by the end of the year.
The city staff also offered recommendations to revise the ordinance, including allowing the request-only provision for single-use straws that are not made out of plastic to stay in place. The proposed revision also would maintain an exemption for drive-throughs.
“After talking with managers about the impacts of request-only on their business operations, it became clear that sit-down restaurants felt little to no negative impacts and many were actually saving money by not automatically giving straws to every customer. Most delivery and take-out only restaurants do not offer straws at all … Fast food restaurants who attempted request-only at the drive-through window stated that customers were upset when they left and realized they didn’t have a straw. Fast food restaurants who implemented request-only in their dining rooms said customers were annoyed thinking that employees had not stocked the straws, but they got used to asking for a straw on future visits. In all cases, signage helped immensely,” the staff memo said.
Other proposed modifications to the ordinance would allow businesses to maintain a small stock of plastic straws for customers with a medical need, and would clarify that Tropicana Field, Al Lang Stadium, the Pier, Albert Whitted Airport and other enterprise properties are city-owned and included in the ban on Styrofoam products.
The city council is scheduled to vote on the changes Nov. 7.
The city’s Office of Sustainability and Resiliency is putting together workshops to explore the feasibility and need for bulk purchases, and other strategies to find alternative products and reduce overall waste, the staff memo said.
Workshops tentatively are scheduled on Tuesday, Nov. 19 at 5 p.m., hosted at the Chamber of Commerce, and on Friday, No. 22 at 10 a.m., hosted at the St. Pete Greenhouse.