The city of Portland is looking to ban restaurants and other venues from providing plastic straws. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

PORTLAND — In 2015, the city became the first in the state to charge a 5-cent fee to customers if they used a single-use plastic bag at the point of sale.

Now, the use of plastic may be reduced in another way.

The city’s Sustainability and Transportation Committee met June 19 to discuss banishing plastic straws at restaurants and food providers.

“Discarded plastic beverage straws threaten wildlife and degrade and litter the beaches and water off of Maine’s coast,” City Councilor Brian Batson, who is leading the push, said.

Batson said reducing the use of plastic straws across the city will decrease the amount of plastic that “would end up in our environment through litter, windblown debris and overflowing trash cans.” He said 8 million tons of plastic end up in the ocean and an average of 500 million plastic straws are used in the United States each day.

Batson, a former member of the Sustainability and Transportation Committee, said he sees an outright ban, as opposed to a voluntary campaign, as the only way to address the issue.

The draft ordinance, which the Sustainability and Transportation Committee is expected to take up and finalize next month, would prohibit the sale, use, and distribution of plastic straws – except those with pre-packaged drinks, such as juice boxes – sold at retail establishments.

Exemptions would be allowed for straws used by medical or dental offices; school districts; during declared emergencies, and by individuals with a disability or impairment that necessitate using a straw.

If passed, the ordinance in Portland would allow retailers to offer straws made out of paper, bamboo, glass, metal or other materials Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

The proposal could be ready for council action by August. Between now and when it comes before the committee again, committee Chairman Councilor Spencer Thibodeau said he will reach out to the Portland Public Schools, Portland Downtown and the Portland Chamber of Commerce to alert them about the potential ordinance.

Straws made of other materials, such as paper, bamboo, sugar cane or metal, would not be regulated. Batson said the ordinance also wouldn’t prohibit someone from going to a grocery store and purchasing plastic straws.

The ordinance would, however, ban the use of plastic straws on public beaches and in public parks.

Committee member Councilor Belinda Ray said the ban of plastic straws at beaches and parks may be a sticking point, and wanted to know how the city would enforce that or handle someone bringing a juice box to a beach or park.

Several other communities and businesses across the country already have bans on the books. City Sustainability Coordinator Troy Moon said 17 communities have banned straws, including many in California and Florida. Others, he said, have adopted policies that only allow plastic straws to provided upon request.

Melissa Gates, northeast regional manager for the Surfrider Foundation, applauded the committee’s look into the issue of single-use plastic straws, saying a ban is necessary “to protect the environment from this needless pollution.”

She said the average American uses 1.5 plastic straws a day, meaning in a city the size of Portland, more than 100,000 are used daily.

Committee member Councilor Jill Duson said if the ban is implemented, she would like the city to track and analyze it after a year and report back to the council, “so we can come back and tidy things up if something isn’t working or the science improves.”

Duson also said she would like a disposal day for people to drop off plastic straws they have, but don’t want anymore. Batson said he would also suggest those looking to get rid of plastic straws consider donating them to places, such as medical offices, that may need them.

Ray said if the measure is ultimately accepted by the council, she would like to see a delayed effective date of January 2020 or even July 2020. Doing so, she said, would allow retailers to transition and use plastic straws on hand and purchase straws made from a new material.

Michael Kelley can be reached at 780-9106 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter:@mkelleynews

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