Straw ban paused

Receives concerns from island businesses
Thu, 10/18/2018 - 8:00pm

The New Shoreham Town Council has discovered that banning plastic straws on Block Island might be a bit different than banning plastic bags and balloons.

Banning plastic straws seems to be a more complex issue, since replacement products such as paper straws are not readily available, and the island’s business community may encounter enforcement challenges. After hearing the Planning Board’s recommendation to ban plastic straws, and stirrers, at its meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 17, the council decided to table the discussion to set a hearing date on the subject to a future meeting.

Over the past year, the council banned single-use plastic bags for the retail sale of goods, and also balloons, for distribution on the island.

Some of the island’s businesses are questioning implementation of a plastic straw ban, saying there’s difficulty in purchasing replacement products, and that there needs to be education protocol for discouraging the public’s use of plastic products.

Resident Brad Marthens, owner of The Atlantic Inn, said he had concerns about plastic products being over regulated.

Marthens said the council “has a duty to contact the businesses” that would be impacted by a plastic straw ban to get their input about the issue. He said “most island businesses” are banning and discouraging the use of plastic straws without a town ordinance.

“You can over-regulate,” said Marthens, who noted that it is challenging purchasing paper straws due to the increase in demand.

He said there’s a “backlog” on replacement products, such as paper straws.

Kathy Szabo, whose family owns Rebbeca’s Seafood on Water Street, and the concession at the Town Beach, said, “Where’s the education?”

Szabo said there needs to be signage informing patrons about the island’s intent to discourage the use of plastic straws. “Who’s going to do that?”

“That would be part of the plan,” said First Warden Ken Lacoste. “Education is important.”

Councilor Martha Ball said that, “Rebecca’s and the Mohegan Café were actively promoting not using plastic straws. I don’t know how many other places” were doing that.

Ball said she would like to see that be a part of the plastics reduction initiative. “I don’t know how much that cut down on the use of plastic straws.”

“It cut down quite a bit,” said Szabo, who noted that her son, Jonas, said that it equated to a 70 percent reduction of plastic straw usage.

“That’s a good start,” said Ball.

Former First Warden, Kim Gaffett, who is an environmental advocate, said plastics need to be removed from the environment, because they lead to “a lot of unintended consequences. We probably shouldn’t have business interests making decisions about how we’re going to” address the issue.

Planning Board member Socha Cohen said, “There are so many conflicting interests and points of view that the first public hearing the council holds might just be devoted to input. I see several public hearings. I don’t see this being solved with one public hearing.”

“We also have to take into consideration unintended consequences of a ban,” said Cohen. “We have to look at so many angles of this” that I think the Town Manager should be charged with directing the discussion.

Councilor Sven Risom said he was excited that the Planning Board’s plastic reduction initiative is creating a spirited debate on the subject.

“I believe strongly that the goal is to reduce the amount of plastic in the environment. Period.”

Risom said the intent is not to harm any island businesses, and to reduce the amount of non-recyclable plastic that are basically not healthy for the marine environment on Block Island.”

“We needed a dialogue to get off plastics,” said Risom. “I’m excited that we’re all discussing it. We need to work together. Let’s keep the dialogue going. Let’s work at it.”

After the discussion, the Town Council voted unanimously to table the item. Lacoste made the motion, which was seconded by Risom.

“We’ll take it up at a later time,” said Lacoste.

The next Town Council meeting is a liquor license renewal meeting scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 1 at 4 p.m.