Disposable plastic straws won’t be banned by the City of Guelph next year, as previously planned, in large part due to a federal prohibition on many single-use items set to come into effect which usurps the municipal bylaw.
In a unanimously approved decision Wednesday evening, city council removed plastic straws from its own ban. It further agreed to consider developing a program that would see plastic straws provided free of charge or at a reduced price to people who need them due to medical reasons.
“It's important to recognize that some people require access to a straw in order to eat or drink,” Lorelei Root, chair of the city’s Accessibility Advisory Committee (AAC), told council. “There are some people who have trouble with motor function and grip strength and difficulty bending their necks or, for other reasons, are unable to drink or consume soup or liquid diets without a straw.
“And many folks think that alternatives such as paper straws, metal, glass, silicone are suitable alternatives. Unfortunately, they all create different barriers.”
Those barriers include chemical sensitivities, choking hazards, lack of protection against heat, some aren't bendable, and more, she said.
A report regarding the creation of a subsidy program is expected to be ready for council’s consideration by mid-2023.
“We’d like some time to take that back and take a look at it,” deputy CAO Jayne Homes told council.
Mayor Cam Guthrie expressed potential concern with the subsidy program idea, noting the city doesn’t currently subsidize any other products for residents.
“I’m just afraid it’s going to open up the door for the next thing and the next thing,” he said.
The federal ban applies to the manufacture, import and sale in Canada, as well as the manufacture, import and sale for export. The AAC chair noted plastic straws will continue to be available for purchase but cannot be openly displayed and must be sold in small packages.
At Root’s request, council agreed to write a letter to the federal government that encourages medical exemptions for single-use plastics, as well as revising its planned municipal ban on single-use plastic bags that requires alternatives to have two reinforced handles.
The motion further commits city staff to work with the AAC on solutions to the city and federal regulations, as well as to launch an education effort aimed at combating community stigma for those who need plastic straws in order to eat and/or drink.
Such an education program could be as simple as the occasional tweet, Root said.
“We weren’t expecting anything too in depth.”