Portland has joined the growing backlash against disposable plastic straws by ending their use in the Clock Tower Cafe at City Hall.

Phoebe MacDonald

The move comes the day after a persuasive second-grader from Ocean Avenue Elementary School, Phoebe MacDonald, spoke to the City Council’s Sustainability & Transportation Committee on Wednesday night and urged the city to make the transition.

Phoebe, 8, passed out aluminum straws to councilors and the audience to show what she said is an eco-friendly alternative to plastic ones.

“I did this for the ocean and for the lives of all the animals. They deserve to have a good environment,” said Phoebe, who will enter the third grade this fall. “Our home is their home.”

Phoebe, in a telephone interview Thursday night, said she is grateful that her environmental concerns have caught the attention of adults. She said the council’s actions demonstrate that even an 8-year-old can make a difference.

“I was impressed by the warmth and the very open reception they gave Phoebe,” said the girl’s mother, Circe Moss MacDonald. “I felt like she was a breath of fresh air.”


Phoebe has also inspired city councilors to consider joining the growing number of U.S. communities moving to ban plastic straws, although Portland officials say that idea needs more study.

City Manager Jon Jennings made the decision to ban plastic straws at the cafe after Phoebe’s presentation, according to a statement Thursday. Jennings is calling the transition “Phoebe’s Rule.”

“I want to thank Phoebe for her leadership and for proving that no matter how old you are, you can still make a difference,” Jennings said in the statement. “I’m excited to implement ‘Phoebe’s Rule’ here at City Hall, and hope that it inspires others to do the same.”

The committee is urging Portland businesses to do likewise, Chairman Spencer Thibodeau said in the statement. “Last night, Phoebe challenged us all to be better when it comes to protecting our environment from single-use items,” he said.

The Clock Tower Cafe is not the first establishment in Portland to ban plastic straws. Some Portland restaurants and bars have already adopted the environmentally friendly trend, including The Green Elephant and Bramhall Pub.

Starbucks also announced earlier this month that the coffee chain would be strawless by 2020, by incorporating special lids with a raised lip to drink from.

Phoebe’s presentation also sparked discussion among councilors about banning plastic straws throughout the city. Before moving forward with that idea, they want to poll business owners to get their input and then discuss the matter further in September. Seattle enacted a citywide ban on plastic straws and utensils on July 1 and Washington, D.C., is considering similar action.

Councilor Belinda Ray brought up the point that some disabilities require a person to use a plastic drinking straw, said director of communications Jessica Grondin. “We will keep a small amount of plastic straws behind the counter for any disabled patrons who need them,” she said.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey contributed to this report.

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