Richmond City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to prohibit plastic straws and plastic stirrers from being used, provided, distributed, or sold by local businesses or at city government-sponsored events, citing their negative environmental impact.
The amendment to the Richmond Food Wares Ordinance, proposed by Mayor Tom Butt’s office, also adds utensils and lids to the list of disposable food wares which must be made with recyclable or compostable materials. One-time use plastic items already prohibited in the ordinance are containers, bowls, plates, trays, cartons, cups and others including service ware for takeout foods.
The banning of plastic straws and stirrers gained the support of the Richmond Chamber of Commerce, although President and CEO James Lee expressed concern over the timeline in which city businesses would need to comply with the new rule. That issue was quickly settled at council Tuesday, when Mayor Butt amended his proposal to provide six months rather than 30 days for compliance. The city will also conduct outreach to the business community, the mayor said.
“We agree that excessive use of plastic is not only harmful to wildlife but the environment,” Lee said. “We fully support the intent of this ordinance.”
The Richmond Food Wares Ordinance was last amended in 2013, when polystyrene foam products used in cups, plates, bowls, take-out containers, coolers and other products were banned.
The reason to impose a ban on plastic straws and stirrers is they make their way to storm drains and waterways that lead directly to the Bay and ocean, posing dangers to marine life and impacting the local and global ecology, according to the mayor’s office. They also litter the city.
Between 2011 and 2017, about 5,300 straws and stirrers were collected by volunteers conducting annual Coastal Cleanups at Shimada Friendship Park, the mayor’s office said.
“For at least six consecutive years, straws and stirrers have been in the top 5 most collected debris years at the Shimada Park coastal clean-up,” the mayor’s office stated in city documents. “At that same location, approximately 1,834 forks, knives spoons, plates and cups were recovered between 2011 and 2012, and 3,899 beverage caps and lids were collected from 2011 through 2013.”
Plastic straws and stirrers are a problem globally, with Americans alone using an estimated 500 million straws daily, according to a Feb. 23 article in National Geographic titled “Straw Wars: The Fight to Rid the Oceans of Discarded Plastic.”
The ordinance amendment requires one more vote at the next City Council meeting.
“I look forward to bringing this item back for a second reading, and for Richmond to join several other California cities in protecting the health of our planet and people,” Mayor Butt said.