Supporters of the much-maligned plastic straw celebrated a victory last week after the High Springs City Commission postponed discussion on whether to ban the use of plastic straws and carry-out containers in all establishments in the city.
The commission unanimously decided to resume discussion on the issue at an upcoming strategic planning session. No date for the meeting has been announced yet, but City Manager Ashley Stathatos said information on the strategic planning session will be posted on the High Springs website.
“It looks like plastic straws are here to stay,” said 20-year-old Mariela Dothe, a public relations junior at the University of Florida. “At least for the time being.”
About a dozen High Springs residents requested that the issue be added to the city commission’s agenda for its March 9 meeting, said Kevin Mangan, High Springs public information officer.
In their request, residents asked that the commission consider banning the use of single-use plastic in all High Springs establishments that offer carry-out service. They said they were concerned that plastic pollution remains in the springs and oceans for years before decomposing.
Dothe, who said she is not a High Springs resident but spends every other weekend kayaking at Blue Springs State Park, agreed plastic pollution is a vital issue. But she doesn’t think banning these products is the solution.
“These bans give the impression that they solve the plastic pollution problem when, in reality, the idea that you’re going to ban straws and save the world is ridiculous,” she said.
High Springs City Manager Ashley Stathatos said she is concerned with how time-intensive the project would be.
“We need to consider if this is a priority,” she said. “I’m not saying this is not important, but the staff is tapped out right now.”
Plastics are one of the biggest pollutants in the world. Every minute, one garbage truck of plastic is dumped into the ocean, polluting the water and killing marine life, according to the World Economic Forum.
Plastic waste, which can take centuries to decompose, kills an estimated 100,000 marine animals per year and 1 million sea birds, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature.
Every day, Americans use more than 500 million plastic straws, according to 5 Gyres Science to Solutions, a nonprofit organization that does consulting work with the United Nations Economic and Social Council. Plastic straws are non-biodegradable, and they can’t be recycled due to their size. Instead, they end up in landfills, oceans, waterways and in our food.
“I appreciate the passion that these folks have,” said Commissioner Katherine Weitz. “Our waterways are a huge source of revenue for us, and we have to do everything we can to protect them.”
Weitz said she believes that rather than banning plastic straws and carry-out containers, the commission should look for other opportunities that would not require as much effort. She suggested the commission start by reducing the number of plastic bottles.
“We now own the Santa Fe Canoe Outpost,” she said. “This could be something as easy as not selling [plastic bottles] and encouraging people not to bring them on the river. I just took a float a couple of weeks ago. There are plastic bottles everywhere.”
Vice Mayor Ross Ambrose said he believes in doing what the commission can to reduce the use of single-use plastic. But he said he does not support using the power of the government to tell businesses what they can and cannot do to serve their customers.
Ambrose said he would rather encourage residents to educate the businesses that use these products to look for ways that are more responsible.
Robert Geiger is the co-owner of Spins Sweet and Savory, a cafe in High Springs. Geiger said when he and his partner, Edward Franklin, first opened their business three and a half years ago, they used strictly compostable materials.
“It cost eight to 10 times more to use compostable materials than standard plastic or styrofoam,” Geiger said. “From an economic standpoint, for us in the state of business, it’s just not feasible.”
Eighteen-year-old Olivia Mooney, a hostess at Ford’s Garage, said the cost difference is not as wide as people think.
“If you do the research, you’ll find containers that do not cost any more than plastic containers do, and they are much better for the environment,” she said.
Mooney said she is worried there won’t be any businesses left if the springs continue to be polluted.
“This is a tourist town,” she said. “We depend on the tourists. They come here to see the springs. If the springs are gone the tourists won’t come, and there won’t be any businesses.”
Commissioner Tristan Grunder said he does not believe the commission needs to dictate a plastic straw ban to businesses around town. He said he has received more phone calls about this issue than any other since he was elected in November 2022.
“People are admittedly against going toward paper straws,” he said. “I don’t know if anyone has ever used a paper straw. They suck.”