St. Pete City Councilwoman Gina Driscoll talks #nostrawsstpete

Hear that? It's the sound of nobody sucking.

click to enlarge St. Pete City Councilwoman Gina Driscoll stands with local businesses to announce the launch of #nostrawsstpete - Courtesy Brian Bailey
Courtesy Brian Bailey
St. Pete City Councilwoman Gina Driscoll stands with local businesses to announce the launch of #nostrawsstpete

On Tuesday, April 10, St. Petersburg City Councilwoman Gina Driscoll joined a group of local businesses at City Hall to formally launch #nostrawsstpete, an organized effort at reducing the use of plastic drinking straws, which can’t be recycled and have proven not just an eyesore on our beaches but a danger to the coastal environment and its wildlife. A double-edged, voluntary initiative, #nostrawsstpete asks local bars and restaurants to only provide plastic straws upon request, while encouraging patrons to order their drinks with “no straw.”

As Earth Day 2018 approaches, CL caught up with Driscoll, who has represented St. Pete’s District 6 since her election last November, to find out how the initiative is going, and where it might lead.

How did the idea for #nostrawsstpete come about?

I had said early on this year that I was going to be taking a look at single-use plastics. It’s something that’s always been important to me to look for ways that we can reduce the use of those teams because of the effects they have on our environment. I noticed that plastic straws have been a hot topic of discussion among restaurants and consumers and environmental groups, and it’s an item that is not preempted but the state, a ban isn’t pre-empted, which means we’re not prohibited for restricting the use of plastic straws. Other items like polystyrene and plastic bags are a different story because the state prohibits cities from banning those items. And because we want to tackle single-use plastics as a whole, because we want to be an environmentally responsible city, I thought we could start with something small, something pretty easy to live without, something we could replace with reusable materials like paper or bamboo or metal. I thought, let’s have this discussion and see what the right move is for St. Pete, to take a citywide approach to reducing the use of plastic drinking straws.

Had you been following the efforts out on the beach and elsewhere to get rid of plastic straws?

Yes, and most recently I noticed that Fort Myers Beach passed a ban that went into effect in February. That’s a town that’s not too far from us, I read about it and we talked to a couple of people down there just to see how they’d been adjusting to the ban when it went into effect, because they did a complete ban and not just a request-only ordinance. The folks there said the adjustment was very smooth for the businesses and the customers.

How has it been going?

It’s fantastic, you know, Brian Bailey from I Love The Burg created and is running that campaign and I’m helping out with that. What he tells me is that many restaurants have signed on since we announced it last week, at that time there were about 20 restaurants that had agreed to reduce the use and wait for customers to ask for a straw, and I think it’s close to 50 now. That’s pretty significant to me, because it’s on a purely volunteer basis, and it shows me that when people understand what the problem is, they want to be part of the solution.

Do you think that overall our community is receptive to environmental ideas like this one?

Yes, I think it’s really part of who we are as a city. St. Pete is very environmentally progressive, we’re always looking for ways that we can reduce our reliance on forms of energy that are not desirable, we’re really helping out with folks who want to install solar panels on their houses, there are all kind of initiatives that we’re taking, we’re trying to move toward 100% clean energy, all these initiatives, and on an everyday basis, there is so much we can do as residents of the city. Being a coastal community, we understand how important it is to be a good steward of the environment. It really fit the personality of our city.

Do you see #nostrawsstpete as a sort of gateway to other environmental initiatives?

I would like it to be the start of a conversation that includes other single-use plastics, as I mentioned before there are restrictions on what we can do for some items, but I want to address each item separately because they’re used in unique ways. There are different [expenses], businesses that use plastic bags, when we have the conversation, we need to customize the approach in a way that’s good for both businesses and the consumer. Same with polystyrene. When you look at something like bottled water, that can be a tougher one, because that’s something that’s so incredibly convenient, something like that will be tougher to eliminate. Although I would love to eliminate all those things, I know it might not be practical in every situation. So I want to look at each item separately and see what’s the best way for St. Pete to reduce the use.

So what are you doing this Earth Day?

We have a big celebration that’s happening at Williams Park downtown, several groups have come together to organize it and I think they have over 100 vendors, lots of great activities and it’s a great way to learn and to celebrate the beautiful city that we have and the environment that we live in, celebrating our coastal community and learning how we can make sure it stays beautiful for generations.