Plastic Pollution
October 22 2019

Portland Bans Single-Use Plastic Straws, Stirrers and Splash Sticks!

by Melissa Gates

After a local 2nd grade student successfully petitioned the Portland City Council in 2018 to mitigate plastic straw use in city-owned buildings, the Maine Chapter took it to the next level with Council interest to pass a citywide ordinance becoming the first municipality in Maine to ban single-use plastic straws, stirrers and splash sticks! 

The proposed ordinance was strong, seeking to ban the sale and distribution of single-use plastic straws and institute an ask-first policy for straws composed of natural fibers (bamboo, hay, cardboard, etc). Through deliberations, however, the initial exemption for schools was removed and a phase-in approach added to allow for a transition period

Surfrider attended all Council subcommittee meetings throughout the year to help guide the policy, answering questions regarding why compostable straws are not a good ask-first option, why a ban is so critical versus a non-binding approach, and policy policy mechanisms for accommodating persons identifying as living with disability. 

Chapter activists leveraged our Ocean Friendly Restaurants program to visit food service establishments covering each Portland city district. Asking questions about current straw use and distribution policies in the City, as well as impressions of the proposed ordinance, Maine Chapter volunteers gathered important data that they then shared in public hearing to support the ban. Many restaurat and bar owners were stoked to learn about the big natural-made straw discounts provided to participants in our OFR program, and were happy to learn of the Council's movement to green the City. 

The first reading of the ban ordinance was held on October 7, 2019, with the 2nd reading, public hearing and vote held on October 21, 2019. Six Chapter volunteers attended the hearing, with four representatives speaking. We addressed an amendment proposed by Councilor Cook, which while well intentioned to make better accommodations for persons identifying as living with disability, would have rendered the ordinance an ask-first policy instead of a ban, which would have been a good step in the right direction but not be nearly as effective at curbing pollution as a ban. 

 

Council debate ensued on the issue of accommodation for people requiring plastic type straws to drink and the desire not to retreat to an ask-first policy. A creative compromise was struck that both maintained the ban while also removing the need presented in the initial ordinance for people requiring plastic type straws to self-identify as someone living with "disability or other impairment." The agreement achieved this solution by amending the exceptions section of the ordinance to clarify that anyone requiring a plastic straw to drink hot or cold liquids could ask for one, and that such a straw would then be provided with no additional questions asked- a true win-win!

The following language was also added to the preamble to help qualify the nature of the exception and the intents of the council: The City Council recognizes the need to ensure that plastic beverage straws remain available to those who require them for consumption of hot and cold liquids and seeks to protect the privacy and dignity of those requesting a plastic beverage straw.

The council carried the amended ordinance unanimously to passage, banning all types of single-use plastic straws, stirrers and splash sticks!

The ordinance has a phase-in process, which takes effect on April 1, 2020, whereby all types of single-use straws, stirrers and splash sticks will be available on request by the customer only. The ban on plastics kicks in on January 1, 2021, coinciding with the statewide foam food packaging and plastic stirrer ban's effective date. After 1/1/21, only natural made single-use straws, stirrers and splash sticks will be available on request of the customer, except for those customers expressing an explicit need for a plastic straw to drink hot or cold beverages, which will then be available as a secondary default upon such request without further question.

Straws are one small piece of the larger plastic pollution crisis, and our volunteer network is taking bold action across the nation to address this piece along with myriad others and concurrent with paradigm shifting change to usher forth extended producer responsibility. Together, we will gain strides toward a truly circular economy.