The Portland City Council took the first step in banning the distribution of plastic straws at local eateries. If adopted, the measure would make straws only available upon request between April 1, 2020 and January 2021, when they would be fully prohibited. File photo

PORTLAND —  City Councilors gave preliminary approval to a measure Monday that would make the city the first in the state to ban the distribution of plastic straws.

The effort to reduce the estimated 100,000 straws used daily in the city is being pushed by District 3 City Councilor Brian Batson, a former member of the council’s sustainability and transportation committee, which unanimously approved a straw ban in September.

A final council vote is expected on Oct. 21.

If approved, plastic straws, stirrers and splash sticks would be available by request only from April 1, 2020 until Jan. 1, 2021, when they would be banned outright. Straws would still be available upon request for individuals with disabilities or other impairments that make them a necessity; the implements would still be available at dentist and doctor offices, be sold in pre-packed drinks or in bulk packaging in grocery stores or used in local emergency situations.

According to the city, “this ordinance aims to cut down on the pollution caused by plastic straws, which are not recyclable, and encourage new habits such as residents bringing their own reusable straws to restaurants and coffee shops.”

It is a measure that is supported by Surfrider Foundation, an organization working to keep plastics and other trash out of the ocean.

While other states across the country have implemented a ban on plastic straws and local restaurants have as well, Melissa Gates, Northeast Regional Director of Surfrider Foundation, said that conversation is just beginning in Maine.

“In Maine, we are behind the eight ball with this in that communities in our state have just started looking at this in the last year,” Gates said.

Surfrider volunteers have been visiting restaurants in the city to see how they feel about the impending prohibition. Most restaurant owners, Gates said, were not opposed and were working on reducing straw use on their own.

“I don’t expect any staunch opposition to this,” she said.

Falmouth’s recycling and energy advisory committee discussed banning plastic straws Oct. 3, and Falmouth Sustainability Coordinator Kimberly Darling said councilors in that town are also mulling such a ban.

“We are right behind Portland on this,” she said.

Darling will be visiting businesses soon to talk about how banning plastic straws might impact them.

Gates said she would not be surprised to see a plastic straw ban “pick up traction in other communities.” Surfrider will be bringing a bill to eliminate plastic straws before the Legislature during its next session, which begins in January.

In many ways, Gates said, local municipalities are following in the footsteps of some of their youngest residents.

“The coolest part is, it has been school-aged kids, kids in elementary school, who have led the effort of trying to eliminate straws in their schools and then bringing it to their respective councils.”

Such is the case in Portland. In 2018, Phoebe MacDonald, then a third-grader at Ocean Avenue School, convinced the city to remove plastic straws from Clocktower Cafe in City Hall and passed out reusable metal straws to councilors and staff members. A youth-powered effort began in Falmouth earlier this year when then-fifth grade students Adey Wrona, Amanda Liu and Simon Thayer successfully got the cafeteria at Falmouth Elementary School to switch from plastic to compostable straws.

“It’s an exciting time with all these local movements going from a classroom to the council to the statehouse. It is such a breath of fresh air to know that changes are possible for the better,” Darling said.

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