The issue of banning single-use plastic items goes beyond the straw for some local advocates.
“It’s not just about the straw,” said Wendy Mueller, Punta Gorda resident and member of the Last Straw Committee in Punta Gorda.
Plastic bags, Styrofoam and plastic to-go containers and cups are equally a problem when it comes to polluting Florida’s environment.
“If something is designed to be thrown away, it’s a poor design,” said Last Straw member Lisa Wagner. The Last Straw Committee was formed in 2018 with the aim of educating the public on the benefits of using biodegradable products to reduce plastic and Styrofoam pollution.
The use and distribution of these items have been at the center of debate for local communities in Southwest Florida. Some cities, like St. Petersburg, Fort Myers Beach and Sanibel Island have even gone as far as approving ordinances to ban the distribution of plastic straws, altogether.
Last week, the state’s Senate Commerce and Tourism committee approved a bill to conduct a study on the environmental effects of the plastic utensils.
The amended bill was introduced by committee member Sen. Travis Hutson. The study will be carried out by the Department of Environmental Protection.
The proposed legislation would restrict local governments from banning plastic straws until 2024. A local government that violates the rule would be fined $25,000.
“I think this issue boils down to home rule,” said Punta Gorda Council Member Debby Carey. “Some communities, especially beach towns, are enacting laws. It is my feeling that local governments are the people; it should be their wishes. I think the state should stay out of local government.”
As for Punta Gorda, Carey believes approaching local businesses about the issue can be much more productive in reducing distribution of the items.
Susan Randall, part-owner of The Village Fish Market & Restaurant and La Fiorentina in Punta Gorda, feels strongly about finding biodegradable alternatives for carryout items.
“We are in the process of changing to Eco-friendly products,” Randall said. “We now use a plant-based straw and have changed several of our containers and single use items.”
One problem for restaurants going Eco-friendly, however, is the cost and the durability of the products.
“Unfortunately,” Randall said, “we are struggling to source Eco-friendly products that hold up to the rigors of our business. We will continue to pursue more Eco-friendly products.”
Public education is one way local residents are hoping to help reduce plastic and Styrofoam pollution in Punta Gorda.
Although it is still in its beginning stages, the Punta Gorda Last Straw Committee is working with multiple local organizations such as the Punta Gorda Isles Civic Association, Team Punta Gorda, The Peace River Wildlife Center and Smart Growth Punta Gorda, among others.
“Our aim is to try to lower the amount of pollution,” Wagner said. “People get all up in arms about straws because they think you are trying to take away their rights. We want to educate. It’s not about forcing people to do something.”
While the committee has no political outlook or ties on the issue, Mueller thinks that making a law banning it will not be a productive way to reduce pollution.
“We need to enforce the laws that we already have,” Mueller said. “We keep making laws but we don’t do anything about them. We have litter laws but we don’t have staff to give out the tickets. I just don’t think that making a law fixes things all the time. In a way, the encouragement is more important to me.”