By Amy Butler
Plastic straws are used for an average of twenty minutes, yet take almost 200 years to decompose. Straws have become a major problem on beaches causing harm to many different animals, but one Treasure Island resident is determined to change that.
In 2015, Julie Featherston and her son, Harper Peterson, were taking a routine walk on Sunset Beach near Caddy’s restaurant. They made one small decision that has started to change the quality of marine life in and around the Treasure Island coastline. After collecting a hand full of plastic straws, they posted a picture to Caddy’s Facebook page asking them to stop using plastic straws, which got a lot of attention. Since then, Featherston and her son have been on a journey to change the way residents and tourists think about their next drink.
Featherston took her initiative to the local commissioners in an effort to stop the use of all plastic straws on Treasure Island beaches. Although the commissioners did not ban plastic straws, they did make a decision to take a step in that direction. In January 2016, the Treasure Island Commissioners voted three to one in favor of a voluntary compliance for restaurants to stop using plastic straws and find an alternative straw. They will revisit the issue in six months to see the progress businesses have made on their own in order to determine if a ban on all plastic straws is necessary. Treasure Island City Manager, Reid Silverboard is in favor of the voluntary compliance. “Voluntary is the best way to go, there is already some evidence of people collecting trash seeing fewer straws…the biggest problem is trying to find a method to change people’s habits, not as easy as it seems.”
Featherston hopes when the commissioners reevaluate the voluntary compliance in six months that they will make the decision to issue a ban so the future of Treasure Island beaches will be safe from plastic straw pollution. “Imagine in five years when there are new businesses and new commissioners, will the compliance still be in effect then? It is just a simple switch, this is a really good thing…getting people to change,” said Featherston.
Caddy’s restaurant was the first to make the change to biodegradable paper straws. They even made t-shirts with the logo #NoPlasticStrawsTI to show their support. However, not everyone loves the change to paper straws. Patron George Wooldridge said, “I didn’t like the taste, it was like wet cardboard, so I drank beer instead.”
One more restaurant that has made some changes to their straw policy is Sloppy Joe’s, in the Bilmar Hotel. They have made the switch to paper straws on all to-go beverages. Manager, Eddie Farias, said, “We are not fully paper straws, what we do is any to-go item out of the property gets a paper straw. Inside we do plastic.” When asked how the customers have responded to the change, Farias said, “I have had customers come to me and thank us for using paper straws and said for that reason they will be back to our establishment.”
Another restaurant, Ricky T’s, also on Treasure Island, has not stopped using plastic straws but has put up a sign asking their customers to be aware of proper disposal of straws or to opt out of using a straw. On how they are handling the voluntary compliance, Manager Ryan Robinete, said, “We are taking baby steps.”
According to the latest Sunset Beach cleanup report, Steve Yost, President of the Sunset Beach Civic Association, said, “Not nearly as many straws as in the past, I’ve got a special picker-upper that doesn’t do too good of a job picking up straws, so I’m always bending over to pick the straws up, but today just a few times, so our paper straws seem to be working.”
Featherston started a website, Be.PlasticFree.org, which says, “Our mission is to inspire people to be the change by creating the world they want to live in.” She also started a petition on change.org, No More Straws on Our Beaches, that now has more than 51,000 signatures.
According to Featherston, “It’s an opportunity to continue to educate and change social norms so individuals have thoughts and are mindful in their daily choices. It’s about taking a second to ask, how does it affect our future. Does it have a negative impact for future generations? Just ask is it worth it?”
Header photo from coastalpropertyfl.com