PORT TOWNSEND — The Port Townsend City Council plans to discuss a potential ban on plastic straws after hearing from members of the Port Townsend High School Students For Sustainability.
The group met during a workshop on Monday with council members, telling them that plastic straws damage the marine environment and that alternatives could reduce costs. They presented the council with a petition with more than 1,500 signatures.
The council set no date for discussing the issue.
The students’ proposed ban would restrict businesses that provide beverages from using single-use plastic straws, plastic stirrers, and commercially compostable straws.
The latter would be included in the ban due to the lack of facilities in which commercially compostable material can be handled properly in Port Townsend. However, there was talk of adding a provision to the ban, that should Port Townsend get the facilities needed to process paper and biodegradable plastics, the compostable straws would be a decent alternative.
Hospitals, care centers, nursing homes, and other special care facilities would be exempt from the ban, though still encouraged to seek out alternatives, the students said.
In their research, the students found that roughly 500 million, or 127 school busloads, of single-use plastic straws are thrown away every day, with 2,000 tons worth of those straws flowing into the ocean every year, making straws the seventh highest ocean polluter.
“They’re a great place to start. There’s a lot of movement behind this ban all over the world,” sophomore, Lochlan Krupa said.
“You can see plastic pollution on the beach and in the water,” Krupa added.
“We talked to Cape Clear Salmon and they said that they often find plastic pollution in their nets and in their machinery.
“We just need to do our part, if Seattle can do it so can we.”
Students noted than many local businesses already have switched from using single-use plastic straws to more sustainable alternatives, such as paper and metal straws, as well as straws made from silicon, wheat, glass, bamboo, and an avocado pit.
There is also always the option of not providing any straws at all.
“Switching to reusable straws could actually save a bit of money,” said sophomore Grace Wentzel.
A bag of 500 single-use plastic straws costs $4. If a business were to use 500 straws a day, it would spend $1,460 on straws a year, whereas a 500 pack of metal straws would cost a one time fee of $18, saving that business $1,275 a year, students said.
The ban would allow for a six-month grace period in which businesses would have the opportunity to get rid of all of their single-use plastic straws, according to the students.
Businesses could also be given special variances for having a small stock of plastic straws for special circumstances.
After the first warning, a business in violation would pay a fine of $100 and if the problem persists, a fine of $250 every two weeks would be levied until the problem is resolved, students said.
After two years without a violation that businesses record would be returned to a warning status without fines.
Councilman David Faber asked why the proposed fine amounts were so low. Students said they wanted to make the fine amounts fair to small and independent businesses in town.
Prior to the ban going into effect, letters would be sent to businesses as well as advertisements placed in local papers. Students in the group have offered to speak to business owners about the ban and make signs for the businesses to post.
Jefferson County Reporter Ken Park can be reached at 360-328-1601 or [email protected].