Miami Beach bans drinking straws

Hotels face fines up to $500 for littering

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. – The sparkling coastline of Miami Beach is near pristine. But look a little more closely, and you'll notice the array of multi-colored, slender cylinders in the sand: plastic drinking straws.

Some beachgoers have noticed the litter.

"I think it's a matter of laziness, and the people and their drinking, and the hotels," said beachgoer Melissa Garrett.

As it turns out, where there are condos, the sand is mostly clear. The beach between 5th and 15th Streets is mainly clean as well.

But where there are hotels with waiters serving up drinks, there are straws. Local 10 cameras spotted hundreds of them, some embedded partly in the sand on the east side of the dunes near hotels with concession service.

Miami Beach Commissioner Jorge Exposito and Vice Mayor Jerry Libbin said they noticed the straws, too.

"The straws are plastic. They're petroleum-based products. They're not biodegradable," Exposito said.

The straws are too small to be caught by the beach sifters that comb the sand daily, and some beachgoers said they easily fly away in the wind.

In response to concerns over the straws, Miami Beach commissioners amended a litter ordinance last week to ban plastic straws from the beach.  Hotels could face fines ranging from $50 to $500, which are the same as existing fines for littering. Enforcement might begin in the upcoming weeks after city officials have reached out to hoteliers, Exposito said.

Banning drinking straws isn't unusual.

SeaWorld in Orlando has banned drinking straws for years. In South Florida, guests at Zoo Miami aren't allowed to have them and concession stands don't provide them. Straws are also banned at the Miami Seaquarium, where scientists fear they could hurt marine life.

Some Miami Beach hotels are already willing to amend their services.

Vanessa Lopez, a spokesperson for the Palms Hotel, said the hotel is committed to being environmentally conscious and is willing to work with city leaders. Lopez said volunteers recently cleaned up straws that were on the sand behind the hotel.

Sarah Murov, Director of Public Relations for the Loews Hotel, wrote in an email: "We will certainly comply with any new regulations by the city of Miami Beach."

Exposito said he got some laughs inside commission chambers, but believes the ban is worthwhile.

"It is a huge burden on our ecological systems. So, people may say this is sort of silly, ‘Big deal, you're banning straws.' But at the end of the day, we're taking a step in the right direction to leave a better world for our children. To make sure our environment, our ecology, is better off for it, Exposito said.