By Danielle Dodder
Major beachfront cities like Miami are banning them outright. The resort empire that is Walt Disney World in Orlando has replaced them with paper versions. The small bits of plastic straws and drinking cup lids discarded by people quickly accumulate into a giant toxic mess on beaches globally. The unsightly litter not only ruins the beauty of a pristine beach, but also strangles the birds, turtles and fish who mistake it for food.
Straws and lids are the most widely and easily littered items along most beaches, but here on Marco cooperation will hopefully trump the need for regulation. City Environmental Specialist Nancy Richie spent the past six months working with staff from the beachfront condominiums, the Hilton, and the Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort to reduce plastic litter. It was a trial proposed as an alternative to a plastics ban ordinance created by the Planning Board in response to beach litter complaints: the results of community beach clean-up efforts were finding “hundreds, even thousands,” of straws, reported Richie.
“At the September meeting, representatives from the beach hotels and timeshares did speak to the proposal of the ban and ask for time to improve the situation by increased staff clean-up practices on the beach, education and signage for guests on site,” explains Richie.
The major hotels put new procedures in place, with the responsibility to keep their beach areas plastics-free in the hands of beach staff. The Hilton requires the beach grill staff to clean up after guests and conduct a walk-through at the end of each shift. Hilton General Manager Mac Chaudhry adds,“ Beach is the main attraction of our island and our staff will do our best to maintain it free of straws in front of our resort. We put a cleanup system in place three months ago and our beach grill and recreation staff is doing a great job on a daily basis to maintain the standards.”
Mike Tighe is the Resident Manager for the Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort, which put a similar policy in place. “We require all associates who work on the beach to sign and turn into their manager each day or night [reports]. Also, increased awareness of the long term impact on the environment and wildlife has helped motivate our team to do more. Our greatest asset is our beach. We also put up a sign on the beach hut asking our guests to help pick up trash.”
Simple steps have made a “huge difference in keeping plastic out of the sand,” says Richie. She is thrilled at the progress that’s been made and shared her findings with the Planning Board at the January 4 meeting. “There have been four organized monthly beach clean ups and daily monitoring by the Volunteer Beach Stewards. The report is extremely positive: there have been no reports of large numbers of straws on the beach. Numbers report range from zero to two or three collected straws per shift of volunteers. The hotels and property managers have stepped up education, staff beach clean-ups and signage for guests to keep the beach clean of straws and other trash.”
The signage on the Marriott’s beach area reads: “Make Every Day Earth Day;” easily done with awareness and a trash can.