On Tuesday, Berkeley City Council approved a proposal to explore the possibility of banning plastic straws in Berkeley’s bars, restaurants and coffee shops.
The city will now begin collecting input from business owners and other stakeholders to determine the details of the potential legislation.
The initiative was spearheaded by Councilmember Susan Wengraf, who decided to try to reduce Berkeley’s straw usage after watching a video of a sea turtle choking on a plastic straw. The proposal directs Berkeley’s Community Environmental Advisory Commission and Zero Waste Commission to reach out to local businesses about the possibility of replacing plastic straws with alternative options including compostable, reusable or paper straws.
Councilmember Ben Bartlett, who also worked on the proposal, stated that the goal is to protect Berkeley’s food supply and oceans — plastic clogs waterways and gets into water systems.
In addition, Bartlett and Wengraf said the proposed ban is part of a larger effort to eliminate single-use plastics in Berkeley by 2020. Wengraf sees the ban as an opportunity to educate people about plastic’s detrimental effects on the environment.
Wengraf said she also hopes the initiative will lead to a voluntary program, as opposed to an outright ban. She says businesses might be more willing to participate if not forced to do so and would like them to understand the issue and voluntarily offer alternatives. “I don’t really like bans because they require enforcement in order to be effective,” Wengraf said.
Juice Appeal, a smoothie shop near Downtown Berkeley BART, already uses compostable straws. The shop made the switch in order to apply for a green business license, according to employee Gyia Daoust. Daoust said these straws are six to eight times more expensive than plastic ones, although the company keeps costs down by buying in bulk.
Crystal Liu, an employee at 723 Tea Station, a boba store on Durant Avenue, had a different opinion. She says compostable or paper straws could prevent her shop from selling boba pearls — large tapioca balls — since she doesn’t know of any straws as wide or durable as plastic ones.
If a ban gets drafted, 723 Tea Station will likely reach out to the Telegraph Business Improvement District, or TBID, which protects member businesses on the south side of Berkeley, according to Liu.
Stuart Baker, executive director of the TBID, says that the organization will work with impacted merchants to show them available alternatives to plastic straws. He said he was concerned, however, that compostable straws could increase the price of drinks, adversely affecting students with limited budgets.
Bartlett, however, remains optimistic about the proposal and its potential for innovation.
“The healthier our ecology gets, the stronger our economy becomes,” Bartlett said.