Straw

City council plans to adopt a policy stating that restaurants should distribute plastic straws only at the request of a customer. 

City council stopped short of supporting a proposed ban on plastic straws and instead agreed to take a more gradual approach to reducing the use of straws in Newark.

Council voted unanimously Monday to direct City Manager Tom Coleman to draft a policy stating that restaurants should distribute straws only at the request of a customer. Coleman will devise suggestions for how to communicate the policy to local businesses and a means for judging the success of the initiative. The policy will come back to council for a final vote at a later date.

“We have responsibility as a government to protect our water source, and water begins locally everywhere. This is not just some plastic trash heap in the Pacific Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico, this affects all our communities,” Councilwoman Jen Wallace said. “While the goal is to get to a ban, it’s more practical to start with ‘by request only’ with a very robust education campaign.”

The straw initiative is a recommendation from the Conservation Advisory Commission – a volunteer board that advises council on environmental issues – as well as a group of students from Newark Charter School.

The proponents pointed out that straws contribute to plastic waste and end up as roadside litter, noting that other towns elsewhere in the country have banned straws, including Seattle, Miami Beach and San Francisco.

The CAC asked council to either ban straws outright or adopt a city-wide policy requiring restaurants to provide straws on a request-only basis. Another option was to phase in the initiative over two years, starting with the request-only policy before moving to a ban.

“Straws are just the tip of the iceberg, I agree with that. But they are a special problem because they are not recyclable and they're very small and they do end up in places that are problematic,” CAC member Sheila Smith told council. “If you care about wildlife and you care about the cleanliness of oceans and water ways, you're going to be concerned about straws.”

The state legislature recently passed a law banning most stores from distributing plastic bags, but so far no Delaware government has tackled the issue of straws, according to Dee Durham, a New Castle County councilwoman and co-chair of the advocacy group Plastic Free Delaware.

“We’re looking to Newark to be a leader of this in Delaware,” Durham said, adding that she hopes the policy leads to consideration of more comprehensive bans on single-use plastic. “We hear from people, 'Why do you care about straws?' They’re sort of the on-ramp to this issue because most people can give up the use of straws.”

Several council members, however, expressed trepidation about a total ban on straws, noting they’ve heard from constituents who are opposed. Among the concerns is the fact that some people with disabilities rely on straws, though the CAC specifically recommended that a ban have an exemption for medical needs.

“I don’t think this is the time where we could generate enough enthusiasm from local businesses and the general public to completely ban them,” Councilwoman Sharon Hughes said. “The bottom line, instead of trying to police our way into it, is to create more of a public awareness. ‘By request only’ is a subtle but obvious message to the individual that there's a problem here. Perhaps starting out request-only will get us a lot quicker to no straws at all.”

Councilman Jason Lawhorn pointed out that many of the city’s restaurants have already made strides toward reducing straw usage.

Grain Craft Bar + Kitchen was the first in Newark to limit straws two years ago. Customers at Grain only receive a straw with their beverage if they specifically request one.

“It’s definitely a habit change, but it’s been well-received,” co-owner Lee Mikles said a few months after implementing the policy. “When you’re home, you never use a straw. Why is this any different?”

He added that between his three restaurants, he used to go through a million straws per year, but saw usage decrease 90 percent after going request-only.

Since then, the Newark Charter students went out to all the restaurants on Main Street and asked them to stop providing straws unless requested. So far, 16 eateries have signed on. Meanwhile, the Greene Turtle has switched to providing paper straws instead of plastic ones.

“There’s a big social movement in our town that's heading in the right direction,” Lawhorn said. “We should do things to support that."

Wallace added that a total ban could prompt backlash.

“Words matter,” she said. “I think a ban, while I personally would like to go there, for those types who may have oppositional defiant disorder, it triggers them when you say, 'Oh, you can’t use a thing.”

It’s not yet clear how the city will enforce a request-only policy and what, if any, penalties there could be for restaurants who don’t comply. Wallace said she would like to see incentives for businesses who cooperate rather than punishments for those who don’t.

Councilman Stu Markham said he preferred a stricter law but added that the proposed request-only policy needs to include a way to evaluate its success. Council should revisit the issue after a year to determine if the policy worked or if a ban is necessary, he added.

“I’m old enough that my first straw was paper,” Markham said. “I know paper is possible.”

(7) comments

Isaiah T

A recent study estimated 8 million tonnes of plastic makes its way to the oceans every year and that 90 % of all river-borne plastic pollution comes from just 10 rivers: eight in Asia, two in Africa. By one estimate the Yangtze River alone spews 1.5 million tonnes of plastic each year. Perhaps more real improvement might be done if groups went to protest at the UN or the Chinese embassy..

chops

Here is a history lesson. In the beginning, we had paper straws. The 'politically correct' thought that we were destroying too many trees in order to make paper straws, so we started making plastic straws. The 'politically correct' now say that plastic straws are filling up our landfills and destroying our environment. We do not need to get rid of plastic straws, we need to stop listening and placating the "politically correct". This is the least of all the problems that we need to solve.

bluisland

How can Council be so stupid not to ban straws? Everyone survives without them at Home. Think Environment.

tired

I find it scary that the councilwoman admits that the goal is a ban. And, that they use such left wing wacky cities as something to aspire to. The government has no right to tell us not to use plastic straws or plastic bags. That they follow the advice of children is equally bad. Paper straws fall apart. It is near impossible to drink a milkshake or a bubble tea with them. Please stop with these ridiculous and encroaching banning projects and do your job - find ways to decrease the size and scope of government.

Isaiah T

Wallace, like all good liberals, wants "banning" as the solution to every behavioral, social problem. Why are plastic straws not able to be recycled? I'm glad the council has the time to consider such issues when the city is being overrun by developers and other do-good, special interest zealots. Might they instead look at changing the decades old and obsolete zoning laws that are ruining the town?

SashaRawlings

---Coleman will devise suggestions for how to communicate the policy---- New waiter/waitress training: HELLO, WOULD YOU LIKE A STRAW WITH THAT DRINK !!??

ssmcjm

I happen to be one of those folks who relies on a straw. I have Dupuytrens in both hands, and handling beverage containers, especially plastic or glass ones without handles is a challenge. I actually have a stainless steel one at home, but it's inconvenient (and unhealthy) to bring with me when we go out. I realize it was mentioned briefly in the article, but I hope the lawmakers with healthy hands don't turn a blind eye to this issue. Thank you.

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