Straws are at front lines of plastic reduction war
Thursday, May 03, 2018
The U.K. Parliament is taking steps to ban all sales of single-use plastics, including plastic straws and Q-tips, as early as next year. Prime Minister Theresa May announced the ban in April, noting that plastic waste is one of the greatest environmental challenges the country faces.
The ban is part of a larger effort by the U.K. to eliminate avoidable plastic waste as part of a 25-year environmental plan designed to help to clean up England's rivers, beaches and oceans from plastic, which is often ingested by marine life.
Per Forbes, the proposed ban would follow the successful implementation of a plastic bag charge and a microbead ban that have produced noticeable decreases in plastic in England's waters.
After the U.K.'s tax on single-use plastic bags similar to those used in grocery stores, the use of single-use plastic bags dropped by 90 percent.
Elsewhere, other single-use plastics are under attack, including drinking straws.
Starbucks, with 951 coffee houses in the U.K., has removed all straws and plastic cutlery from its stores there to force customers to request them. McDonald’s, with 1,270 outlets in the U.K., will trial paper straws in some of its restaurants. These organizations are under immense pressure globally to ditch the non-biodegradable straws from their drinks.
The European Union is also pushing for many single-use plastic products, including straws, to be barred across its 27 member states by 2030. Some countries may move much faster than that. The Scottish city of Glasgow banned the use of plastic straws in municipal buildings.
Environmental groups have targeted disposable drinking straws that are not recyclable or compostable. The ultimate goal is to prevent non-degradable plastic straws from polluting our beaches, waterways and oceans. NBC News reports that by 2050, there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish.
Reducing this pollution can easily start with straw consumption.
“Straws are an easy thing for everybody to get started on when approaching the enormous issue of plastic pollution,” said Diana Lofflin, founder of StrawFree.org, an environmental group based in southern California. “We’re seeing more plastic in our waterways and one of the most common items we find is straws. In fact, it's one of the top 10 items that are picked up at beach cleanups.”
U.S. lawmakers have already created bans or are following Europe’s example with bans of their own. Los Angeles, Davis, Malibu and San Luis Obispo, California; Miami Beach and Fort Myers Beach, Florida; and Seattle, have all passed ordinances that limit or prohibit restaurants from using plastic straws.
In Fort Myers Beach, with a ban in place since February, there are reports of fewer straws. Of those found, many are now biodegradable.
Malibu already bans the commercial use of plastic shopping bags and polystyrene food containers. A new city ordinance takes effect in June that adds plastic straws, stirrers and cutlery to the list.
On the West Coast, California assemblyman Ian Calderon (D-Whittier), has introduced a bill that would require all restaurants in the state that serve food eaten on site to provide plastic straws only when requested by the customer. Calderon said in a statement: "It is a small step towards curbing our reliance on these convenience products, which will hopefully contribute to a change in consumer attitudes and usage."
Seattle’s Safeco Field, home of the Mariners, does not use plastic straws, stir sticks or utensils. The ballpark won Major League Baseball’s the 2017 “Green Glove Award” for its recycling efforts.
However, as might be expected, some in the plastics industry are concerned about the impacts to their business while acknowledging that waste and marine debris are serious issues. However, they’d prefer more efforts on recycling and disposal than on bans.
"People should have the option to use products that fit their lifestyle, but it’s everyone’s responsibility to make sure these items are disposed of in a way that maximizes their value and ensures that they don’t end up where they shouldn’t," said Ashley Stoney, director of communications for the Plastics Industry Association, in an email to NBC News.
The scale of plastic pollution in the oceans is pretty overwhelming, which is why single-use plastics are being targeted. For example, an estimated eight to 11 million tons of plastic enters the oceans every year — the equivalent of emptying a garbage truck filled with plastic into the oceans every minute.
In regard to alternatives to plastic straws there are several options, including bamboo, steel, paper and even glass. There’s also the option of using no straw at all, of course.
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