Gloucester has added plastic straws, stirrers and "hot stoppers" — caps used to block the holes in coffee lids— to its list of banned single-use plastics in hopes that fewer of the items would litter the land and float into the sea.

City Council approved amending the city's trash and litter ordinance by unanimous 9-0 vote so it calls for "prohibition" of all single-use plastic straws and similar items by food service and other businesses. The ban takes effect July 1, 2020. The city already bans polystyrene containers and thin, single-use plastic shopping bags.

The amendment calls for the the use and distribution of compostable or reusable products or materials in the place of plastic straws, stirrers and hot stoppers. Businesses may still offer the items to customers; the alternatives need to be non-plastic, made of materials such as paper, sugar cane or bamboo. 

The original proposal called the prohibition on straws to begin Jan. 1, but Ward 2 Councilor Ken Hecht, who sponsored the amendment, said the it was so long in the works before if it came to a vote, that councilors voted to change the effective date. "We changed it to July 1, 2020, to give them a whole year to prepare," he said. 

"The European Union just voted to get rid of all non-reusable plastic by 2021 — that's 28 countries. It's a huge world-wide trend," Hecht said. "I'm so proud Gloucester is at the front of it, having already banned plastic bags and Styrofoam (polystyrene containers.)

Interns from the non-profit from Gloucester-based Seaside Sustainability did background research for and wrote the proposed amendment, as well as developed petitions promoting it, said Hecht and Eric Magers, executive director of Seaside Sustainability and a member of the Gloucester Clean City Commission. 

Before the final vote, seven Seaside Sustainability interns made presentations on the group's efforts to educate the public about sustainability, the environment and its actions to promote both; the costs of plastics replacement, which have come down, and standards of compostability; and how a number of Cape Ann restaurants have changed their practices, operating as if the ban was already in place.

"They're already see cost savings, having reframed they way they handle straws and stirrers, doing it by demand," said Magers of several local restaurants, including The Franklin on Main Street and Lobsta Land off Route 128. "They're using compostable items and using less."

Of the crowd in attendance at the meeting, both Hecht and Magers said only person spoke against the ban, concerned about the impact on the disabled or disadvantaged who require straws for drinking for medical reasons.

"They showed compostable and plastic straws, and you could not tell the difference, so people do not have to use paper," Hecht said of one of the Seaside Sustainability interns' presentations. The comparison was one reason he said he and his fellow councilors approved removing a proposed clause that would have exempted hospitals, nursing homes, and other institutions serving populations that need straws for medical reasons.

The Board of Health will enforce the ban and levy penalties. A first offense would be met with a warning. A second offense would carry a $100 fine. Third and any subsequent offenses would cost the business operator $200 apiece.

Magers said Seaside Sustainability is working with the town of Rockport, which has already banned plastic bags, to institute a similar ban there, and has plans in the near future to work with Essex on prohibiting single-use plastics by businesses there.

Manchester already prohibits local businesses from using thin single-use plastic bags and approved a ban this spring, effective in October, on the use of polystyrene, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) or polyethylene terephthalate (PETE) take-out food containers and plastic utensils.

Andrea Holbrook may be contacted at 978-675-2713 or aholbrook@gloucestertimes.com.

 

 

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