Edmonds: It's the last straw

City is first in county to ban straws, stirrers, plastic cutlery
By Brian Soergel | May 23, 2018
Photo by: Brian Soergel Katti Blue and her husband, Jeremy, are dedicated to providing an alternative to plastic straws. Katti had a booth at the Edmonds Spring Fest on May 12.

Nine years ago, Edmonds became the first city in Washington state to ban the use of single-use plastic checkout bags at all retail establishments.

On Tuesday, the city took another step toward an environmental protection leadership role with a resolution to ban single-use plastic straws and stirrers, as well as plastic cutlery, in the Edmonds food service industry.

Edmonds is the first city in Snohomish County to do so.

The city now will work on educating residents and food-service businesses in town – including the Edmonds School District and Swedish Edmonds Hospital – that by early 2020 single-use plastic straws/stirrers and plastic cutlery in Edmonds will be banned.

Over the next 18 months, it will reach out to the local food-service industry to help prepare them for the introduction of the upcoming ordinance.

The resolution also outlines the intent to ban these items by the end of 2018 in city-owned buildings and in 2019 at outdoor festivals and events in Edmonds, such as Taste Edmonds, the farmers market and Edmonds Arts Festival.

City staff will work on the plan and determine costs, which will be reflected in the city’s 2019 budget. Full implementation and costs – such as for enforcement and mailings – will be part of the city’s 2020 budget.

The immediate plan?

Local restaurants and food-service businesses, beginning now, are encouraged to offer straws, stirrers and plastic cutlery only if customers ask for them. Patrons will be encouraged to use reusable and durable straws and cutlery.

Several citizens spoke for the ban at Tuesday’s meeting, including Shoreline resident Sara Betnal and her 5-year-old daughter, Geneva. It was Geneva who wrote a letter to Shoreline City Council members recently urging the city to ban plastic straws.

In Edmonds, while her mother spoke, Geneva held a sign reading “Don’t use plastic straws.”

Annie Crawley, an Edmonds scuba instructor, author and speaker, applauded the ban. At a cleanup she conducted at the Edmonds Marina with other divers two weeks ago, she said they all saw an abundance of single-use plastic.

The idea, at first glance, may seem like another example of governmental overreach. But the facts are undeniable: Americans use and toss 500 million straws every day. Every day.

Plastic can take hundreds of years to break down. It pollutes the food chain. It is destroying oceans.

A University of Washington study from June 2017 sampled sand on 12 Puget Sound Beaches – including Marina Beach in Edmonds – and found that “small plastics are widespread along the shore of Puget Sound.

All 12 samples contained microplastics, at an average of 1,776 pieces per 3-foot-square sampling plot,” and plastic straws were cited as one of the top 10 contributing factors for marine debris pollution.

Plastic in marine environments does not biodegrade, but instead breaks down into smaller pieces that can turn into microplastic, which is becoming more prevalent in saltwater bodies and has been shown to enter the marine food chain.

Plastic is commonly transported into salt-water bodies from land-based sources via rivers, streams and stormwater conveyance systems.

“This issue came forth from a local neighborhood coalition to the mayor’s Climate Protection Committee last year, but we were busy with the Taming Bigfoot Competition,” Councilmember Diane Buckshnis said.

“Councilmember (Dave) Teitzel helped us and did the lion’s share of research. It was an easy yes from the Climate Protection Committee.”

Teitzel and Buckshnis presented a draft of the resolution in April and May to the Mayors’ Climate Protection Committee for input and suggestions. In addition to the Climate Protection Committee endorsing the proposal, others include Zero Waste Washington, the Washington Environmental Council, Washington Conservation Voters, Port of Edmonds, the Edmonds Neighborhood Action Coalition, and others.

“This is a great start to addressing the issue of single-use plastics and how ubiquitous they are as roadside and beach litter,” city of Edmonds recycling coordinator Steve Fisher said.

“Everyone can identify straws, and they serve as a great example of an item that can be easily reduced in use by at least being only offered on demand, and only offering an alternative to plastic at that. I feel many, if not all, of the common single-use plastics could ultimately be addressed in the same manner since viable and more sustainable versions exist to replace plastic.”

Edmonds isn’t alone in its ban of plastic straws and cutlery. Seattle’s ban goes into effect July 1. Among other cities that have bans or will have bans are Vancouver, British Columbia; San Luis Obispo, Davis and Malibu in California; and Miami Beach and Fort Myers in Florida.

And just this week, Seattle-based Alaska Airlines announced that this summer it will replace straws with sustainable, marine-friendly options, including white birch and bamboo.

“I have long been concerned about the cumulative effects of plastics in our environment, especially with regard to small, single-use plastic food service items that can't be recycled or composted and which are frequently washed into Puget Sound,” Teitzel said.

“These items degrade over time into smaller plastic particles that are ingested by marine life, and either kills birds, fish and mammals or finds its way into our food chain. A number of local citizens have encouraged me to develop a legislative plan, modeled after the work Seattle has already done on this topic, to ban single-use plastic straws/stirrers/cutlery in Edmonds.”

It’s time to look at the big picture, Teitzel and others say.

In April 2014, the City Council passed Resolution 1357 addressing Zero Waste Washington’s and the state of Washington’s “Beyond Waste Plan” as the city’s long-term goal to eliminate waste and pollution in the extraction, manufacture, transportation, storage, use, reuse and recycling of materials.

And the city of Edmonds’ Climate Change Action Plan states that by 2050 the city’s energy will come from nearly 100 percent renewable sources, with waste streams approaching zero and nearly all its products and services obtained from sustainable sources.

In Edmonds, many local food service providers have already begun to use compostable food service ware, Teitzel said, including Taco Time, McDonald’s, Spud Fish & Chips, Starbucks, Walnut Street Coffee, PCC, The Cheesemonger's Table, and others.

Pam Fairchild Stuller, owner of Walnut Street Coffee, said she fully supports the ban and the window to allow businesses to fully implement it. She also called for the city to offer more recycling and compostable opportunities downtown, instead of simply garbage cans.

While compostable food service ware is more costly than plastic items, the cost differential can be minimized by only providing food service items on demand, Teitzel added.

For example, providing straws based only on customer demand can reduce straw usage by about two-thirds. When the ban is in place, restaurants and food services can provide compostable products and paper-based straws, as they are both compostable and break down into inert components when exposed to the marine environment.

“Since the Edmonds ban will not become effective until early 2020, when the Edmonds ordinance will be filed, the local food service industry will have ample time to utilize existing supplies of single-use plastic food service items and order in compostable replacement products,” Teitzel said.

“Over the next 18 months, we will conduct an extensive stakeholding effort with the local food service industry to help prepare them for the introduction of the ordinance. The reason for bringing forward the plastics ban resolution at this point is to announce our intent to file the ordinance in about 18 months to provide the food industry a fair opportunity to prepare.

“An effort to ban single use plastics will not solve the plastics pollution problem, but it does represent a proactive step toward improving our environment.”


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