Swampscott Town Meeting looks at eliminating plastic straws in businesses

SWAMPSCOTT — After a vote to ban plastic bags last year, the coastal community hopes to keep up the environmentally friendly pace with a ban on plastic straws.

Depending on a vote at Town Meeting on Monday, May 20, Swampscott could phase out the use of plastic straws and beverage stirrers in all retail establishments over a 12-month period. The vote will specifically amend the town’s general bylaws by inserting a new bylaw titled “Single Use Plastic Beverage Straw and Stirrer Reduction in Business Establishments.”

“I think it’s kind of a no-brainer,” said Board of Health Chair Marianne Speranza-Hartmann. “Before plastic there were other kinds of straws, like cardboard or paper. Plastic straws usually don’t get recycled because they are so small and we are a coastal town, so they end up in our ocean.”

The plastic straw ban would be the first for the North Shore area, as communities like Lynn and Saugus just recently jumped on the banning plastic bags bandwagon. Speranza-Hartmann said, while the pollution problem continues across the country, plastic straws are an easy environmentally unfriendly item to take off the market.

Sponsored by the Board of Selectmen, the warrant article states the production and use of single-use plastic straws and beverage stirrers have significant impacts on the environment.

The impacts include contributing to pollution of the land environment, creating a burden to solid waste collection and recycling facilities, entering storm drains that lead to waterways leading to the ocean, causing the potential death of marine animals through ingestion, and requiring the use of millions of barrels of crude oil nationally for their manufacture.

“Business establishment,” as described in the article, means a retail store, supermarket, general department store, bar, tavern, lounge, restaurant, and take-out restaurant serving liquid, slurry, frozen, semi-frozen, or other forms of beverages to the public for consumption. It does not include nursing homes, nursing care, assisted living facilities, doctors, nurses, or emergency medical technicians providing straws to patients.

If the article is amended on Monday, the ban would be effective January 1, 2020, and would prohibit their use not only in business establishments but town-sponsored events as well.

Nothing in the bylaw prohibits the sale of plastic straws in packages by supermarkets and general department stores nor does it prohibit customers from using their own straws of any material for personal use in any business establishment.

“I think there will be a fair amount of opposition because people don’t like to be told what to do by government officials,” Speranza-Hartmann said. “They just don’t like to be regulated and I think that is part of the issue … It certainly has our (Board of Health) support on it. Banning plastic straws is being done across the country because it’s an obvious thing to do.”

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