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Over 500 million plastic straws are used in the United States annually, making them one of the most common trash items collected on beaches. Not only can they be unpleasant to look at on our beaches, they are also sometimes ingested by wild animals. But perhaps the largest issue is the deposition of millions of pounds of plastic into the natural world that will take millennia to decompose.

We are finding that as plastics break apart into smaller plastic particles, they are becoming integrated into the food web, creating unnatural and unhealthy chemical infusions in animals. We are altering the physiology of the animals we rely on to support human life.

Coastal Keepers, formerly the Sanibel-Captiva Chapter of START, is a group of island citizens that create and implement local conservation initiatives that promote and improve the future of marine resources, and our coastal heritage. We want to make our lives on the islands just a little better and make the world a better place for future generations.

We saw a way to help our island community reduce the plastic load we leave to our children, so Coastal Keepers launched an initiative, Strawless on Sanibel, in February 2018. Strawless on Sanibel was designed to reduce the use of single-use plastic straws on our island and to educate locals and visitors about the threats single-use plastics pose to future generations.

Coastal Keepers partnered with twelve businesses who recognized that they were contributing to the global plastic load, and diminishing the experience of their customers by doing so. Together, they pledged to transition away from plastic straws. Coastal Keepers provided support and guidance throughout the implementation process. With the Strawless on Sanibel coalition, Coastal Keepers urged the Sanibel City Council to regulate plastic straws on our Sanctuary Island. In response, the City of Sanibel researched and drafted an outstanding plastic straw ordinance.

The ordinance does not permit the distribution or sale of single-use plastic straws by commercial entities on Sanibel. Residents are encouraged to go strawless or to utilize environmentally-friendly alternatives such as reusable straws or straws made of paper or compostable materials. The ordinance will go into effect in 120 days, beginning in January 2019. In the meantime, the city will focus on educating commercial establishments, and helping identify alternative options as needed.

After the transition period, if businesses do not comply with the ordinance, penalties will be issued. The penalty schedule is included in the ordinance.

The goal of the ordinance is to help enrich the lives of our citizens, while ensuring for a healthy and vibrant environment for future generations. Some of the exclusions to the ordinance include:

  • The use of a plastic straw by any disabled person that requires or relies on the use of a straw to consume beverages and/or food supplements.

  • Pre-packaged beverages with plastic straws sold or distributed within the City, provided that such beverages are prepared and packaged outside the City and are not altered, packaged or repackaged within the City.

  • Medical or dental facilities.

  • A plastic straw that is included with and manufactured as a part of, or in combination with, a re-usable beverage container and is intended for continued and multiple uses with such container.

  • Land or facilities owned and managed by the Lee County School Board, Lee County, the State of Florida or the Federal Government.

Single-use plastic straws are not the only source of plastic we are leaving to our future generations, but their elimination is a great first step. Conservation often starts with small steps in the right direction.

Globally, the straw movement is building, and awareness is spreading; individuals and businesses are more frequently evaluating their plastic habits, and finding ways to become better environmental stewards. Our small step is worth celebrating as the City of Sanibel continues to protect our Sanctuary Island for future generations.

Coastal Keepers has purchased reusable stainless steel straws and is more than happy to supply them to anyone who would like to own their own sustainable straw.

To receive a straw, learn more about Coastal Keepers, or to get involved with our efforts, please call (239) 472-8585, email, or visit