ENCINITAS — The Encinitas City Council is moving forward with creating an ordinance that would require restaurants to only give out plastic straws on demand.
After the city’s environmental commission voted back in December to recommend the city pursue the ordinance, the City Council on March 21 unanimously directed staff to bring back a set of rules in coming months.
Encinitas, which has already banned plastic bags and expanded polystyrene food service ware, would be the first San Diego County city to move forward with such restrictions against plastic straws, which environmentalists see as a nuisance that harms coastal and marine wildlife.
The council had the item on its consent calendar, which meant it was poised to adopt it without discussion and a simple consensus vote.
But several speakers — including a first-grader — urged the council to move forward with an ordinance.
“Animals think things like straws and plastic bags are food, turtles think plastic bags are food and eat them and get sick,” said Emmi Conn, who attends Ocean Knoll Elementary School. Her mother held her up to the microphone so that she could speak. “You already fixed that plastic problem (plastic bags). How about straws are next?”
Other supporters said that the city won’t be alone in their push to regulate plastic straws. San Francisco, Davis, Malibu and San Luis Obispo have all adopted rules and Encinitas’ neighbors, Del Mar and Solana Beach, are also considering them.
“Encinitas may be the first city in the county to adopt a straws-on-request policy, but it’s only the first of many,” said Taylor Leigh Cannizzaro, chair of Surfrider’s Rise Against Plastics Committee.
According to the environmental commission’s report, Encinitas residents and restaurant goers could use as many as 100,000 straws daily.
The ordinance is the brainchild of commissioner James Wang, who was instrumental in the passage of the bag and polystyrene ordinances.
In his December report to the commission, Wang cited a National Park Service study that estimates Americans use 500 million plastic straws each day and a 2015 beach cleanup in San Diego that yielded 15,000 plastic straws.
Wang lists four benefits to the policy: An immediate reduction in straws destined for landfill, a reduction in cost for vendors since fewer straws will be distributed, reduced litter and a heightened awareness of environmental impacts by customers.
“Plastic straws are not natural and adversely impact all life. Sea life may be the most profoundly
affected since straws float and are mobile in water: they can snarl marine animals, mimic food,
and may be unwittingly consumed by sea life,” Wang wrote in the staff report.
Activist groups such as The Last Plastic Straw and Strawfree.org have worked on a statewide ban on plastic straws, which they said could be replaced with biodegradable or reusable straws.
Restaurant trade groups have argued against bans, which they said would add to the bottom line of restaurant owners statewide. Environmentally friendly straw options cost at least eight times more than plastic ones, per reports.