NORWALK, Conn. — Plastic straws are set to become an “opt in” situation in Norwalk, in a proposal moving to the full Norwalk Common Council for approval on Oct. 8.
The Council Ordinance Committee on Tuesday voted unanimously not to ban plastic straws but to institute an “ask first” policy City-wide. Plastic stirrers are set to be banned.
The proposed ordinance reads:
- “No Food or Beverage Establishment in the City of Norwalk shall sell, provide, or distribute a Single-Use Plastic Stirrer.
- “No Food or Beverage Establishment in the City of Norwalk shall sell, provide, or distribute a Single-Use Plastic Straw unless requested by the consumer.”
Establishments that provide plastic straws without being asked to do so by their customers will be warned on their first violation and then subject to a $150 fine for the second violation and a $250 fine for the third and subsequent violations.
The proposed plastic straw ban morphed into the “ask first” policy out of concern for the disabled.
This strikes a “thoughtful balance” that will “reduce plastic straw waste without requiring people with disabilities to go through unnecessary steps or identify themselves as such to get vital eating tools,” Attorney Anna Keegan of the Human Relations & Fair Rent Department wrote in a memo to the Committee. “…If people ask for a straw and are handed a paper one, they are likely to believe that is the only straw available and ask no further. As I have said before, plastic straw alternatives are inadequate for the needs of many people with disabilities, and some can be actively harmful.”
Ordinance Committee Chairwoman Eloisa Melendez (D-District A) said she had just spent a weekend in Chicago where she and a friend were given metal straws in a bar, without asking for them.
“I totally understand the rationale … There’s a serious danger, though,” she said. “I was looking at the thing like, ‘Okay, this is probably not the best thing to give people who are drinking alcohol.’”
The Committee briefly debated a suggestion from the Surfrider Foundation, relayed by Council President Tom Livingston (D-District E), that “splashsticks” and “lid plugs” be added to the ban.
It developed that splashsticks are separate pieces of plastic made to be inserted into the hole of a coffee or other hot beverage lid to keep hot liquid from escaping while the beverage is in transit. Lid plugs serve the same function.
“I hate those things,” Melendez said, of splashsticks.
“I think they’re stupid,” Council member Chris Yerinides (D-District A) agreed. “…If you slam on your brakes on the highway. That coffee’s going all over your car anyway, the splash stick isn’t gonna save you.”
Council member Michael Corsello (D-At Large) disagreed, saying that the splash stick can make a big difference. “It does a lot more than just keep the heat in. In fact, it could even prevent injuries.”
“For me, the basic question is, is there a non-plastic alternative?” Council member Colin Hosten (D-At Large) asked. “Besides, you know, obviously, you know, could they develop a paper-based splash stick? Of course, they could if they were forced to.”
Corsello asked if Norwalk would be the only community to ban splash sticks.
Garrett Park, Maryland, a community of about 1,000 people, did it, according to Livingston.
Splash sticks and lid plugs hadn’t been part of the public hearing proposal, and the Council has already made “drastic changes” with its plastic bag ban and Styrofoam ban, Council members said. So the matter was dropped. It could come back with the next Council and more research, Melendez, who is not running for reelection, suggested.
Melissa Gates of the Surfrider Foundation in her memo told the Council that a study done in October showed that “demand policies do get results but that bans are by far more effective.”
“Plastic straws have a fairly minimal impact on overall pollution levels,” Keegan wrote. “According to the study cited by the Surfrider Foundation, ‘plastic straws are not a significant source, by weight or by volume, of the global plastic waste problem.’ They represent, in total 6% of the items found in the Ocean Conservancy’s Coastal Cleanup Reports, however, considering the smallness of straws, they probably represent less than that if viewed by weight or volume. The reason plastic straws tend to be targeted is because they are visible and easy for most people to give up, and the hope is that this will lead to reduction in other more significant areas of plastic use, but this should not be done in a way that harms people with disabilities.”