Food service and retail merchants may not be able to distribute plastic straws and stirrers in Prince George's County. (Courtesy of earth.com)
Food service and retail merchants may not be able to distribute plastic straws and stirrers in Prince George's County. (Courtesy of earth.com)

Prince George’s County may join several neighboring jurisdictions that banned the sale and distribution of plastic straws and stirrers.

County Council’s Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee recommended approval Thursday, Oct. 10, to ban non-compostable straws and stirrers. 

The committee’s 3-0 vote occurred on the last day the group would meet this year before County Council’s legislative session ends at the end of the year. The legislation plans to be introduced Oct. 22 before the full council. 

“I’m not at looking to overly fine folks. It’s more about getting compliance than it is about getting revenue,” said Councilman Tom Dernoga (D-District 1) of Laurel, who serves as the lead sponsor of the legislation. 

According to the proposed bill, it wouldn’t go into effect until July 1. Fines and other penalties wouldn’t be enforced until Jan. 1, 2021. 

A first-time offense would be a written warning, $250 for a second violation, and $1,000 fine for a third offense within 12 months. 

Melvin Thompson, a representative with the Restaurant Association of Maryland, said the fines “are a little excessive for the nature of such a violation.” 

Thompson, who said about 1,300 restaurants and food service establishments are in Prince George’s, said the association must explain what products are available on the market and which suppliers will have them. 

“What are you trying to accomplish?” he said. 

“We are trying to accomplish everything,” Dernoga said. 

The legislation requires the county’s Department of the Environment to conduct an outreach campaign before and during implementation. Some of the education would include sending mailers to affected businesses, distributing information online, and promotions through news releases and events. 

The bill adds an exception that allows businesses to distribute straws to disabled customers. 

The legislation mirrors a bill passed last year in neighboring Charles County, and D.C. inspectors began this summer to enforce the straw ban. 

Meanwhile, the Sierra Club presented several amendments, such as a proposal to add “single-use straws.” The phrase didn’t make the cut. 

However, the club’s county chapter suggested adding a “retail business” along with a food service industry that sells straws. 

The club also summarized how more than one million straws are used daily and later found in waterways and roads. 

Martha Ainsworth, chair of the Sierra Club’s county chapter, briefly explained two ways to eliminate the straw problem: don’t use them and strengthen the definition of compostable. For instance, she said bio-plastic compostable straws made from a plant-based plastic wouldn’t dissolve in the environment compared to paper straws. 

Ainsworth mentioned a study conducted by the 5 Gyres Institute, a nonprofit organization based in Los Angeles which focuses on eliminating plastic and other items to protect the environment. 

The organization, along with the San Francisco Estuary Institute, released a report this month with recommendations on how to protect the San Francisco Bay, which could help other communities in a “plastic pollution movement.” Some of the ideas include supporting legislation that reduces single-use plastics, encouraging the textile industry to standardize methods to understand microfiber shedding; and educating consumers, including the youth, on ways individuals can reduce microfibers from entering the bay. 

“We’re making some progress because there’s an attempt to find alternatives,” Ainsworth said after the committee vote. “You can drink water out of a glass without a straw. It’s about changing the mindset that plastic straws hurt the environment.”

Coverage for the Washington Informer includes Prince George’s County government, school system and some state of Maryland government. Received an award in 2019 from the D.C. Chapter of the Society of...

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