Will Portland’s straw ban backfire?

By Oregon Small Business Association Foundation,

Will Portland’s proposal to outlaw straws be an environmental milestone like Oregon’s historic bottle bill or will it be a public fiasco like the California coffee cancer label which became a national mockery and scientifically rebuffed by the state’s own Environmental Health Office?

Critics nationwide are questioning straw bans  saying that it is unfair to those with disabilities while others see Santa Barbara’s 6-months maximum jail time as quite draconian.  The science behind the straw bans have come under fire as the leading claim that Americans use 500 million straws a day originated from a 9-year old.

The City of Portland almost sure to ban plastic straws in the near future, after a recent City Council vote. The resolution directs the city’s Planning and Sustainability Bureau to “introduce a single-use, non-recyclable plastic reduction strategy, including plastic straws” by October 1.

Plastic items are some common forms of litter along roadsides, streams, and the ocean. Plastic can harm wildlife that ingest it. The resolutions claims, “plastic straws are consistently cited as one of the top ten contributors to marine debris pollution.” This assertion seems to be based on anecdotes from beach clean-up events. Neither NOAA nor the EPA nor the European Environment Agency single out straws as one of the “top ten” sources of marine pollution.

The details of Portland’s strategy have yet to be worked out. Key questions swirl around how the city plans to monitor and enforce its plastic reduction strategy—especially in the face of the region’s other pressing problems, such as homelessness, affordable housing, traffic gridlock, and skyrocketing public pension costs.

Portland has a tradition of what it calls “complaint driven” enforcement. If this tradition continues, it’s doubtful the city will have a staff of plastic police walking from store-to-store. More likely, the city will rely on straw snitches who will rat out plastic using scofflaws.

Last year, the majority leader of the California State Assembly introduced a bill that would have imposed jail sentences of up to six months if a restaurant worker handed out a single unsolicited plastic straw. After a flurry of outrage in the press and social media, the legislator promised to remove the criminal penalties.

Seattle has a ban on plastic utensils and straws, with enforcement beginning on July 1. Seattle has a penalty of $250 for failure to comply with the city’s ban.

On the one hand, Portland is likely to follow Seattle’s lead, as it does in many other areas.

On the other hand, when Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler was asked about the proposal, the mayor said he urged the Planning and Sustainability Bureau to come up with an aggressive strategy. “I hope it’s comprehensive and I hope it’s on the edgy side,” he said.

“Comprehensive” and “edgy” are two words business owners never want to hear when a politician is talking about regulation.

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