The Last (Plastic) Straw

Once upon a time, plastics were the future — just not the way we expected

“One word: plastics.” From The Graduate, 1967

Plastic. It’s everywhere and in everything, including our physical bodies it seems. Among the top plastic offenders, drinking straws have emerged as public and animal enemy number 1 in the past several years.

Here in south Florida the rhetoric surrounding climate change and the human effect on our ecology has focused onto red tide, toxic algae overgrowths, and the trash that our marine animals end up consuming in their bodies. Our sea turtles are adversely affected by ingesting plastic particles, especially from the plethora of plastic drinking straws that accompany popular Florida concoctions like daiquiris and pina coladas. For my local readers, if you haven’t already visited the Loggerhead Marinelife Center (LMC), I highly advise it for an education.

Photo from LMC’s Loggerhead Marinelife Day held at the Gardens Mall in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida on August 18th. A small collection of straws retrieved from our beaches.

Where’s My Straw?

For customers who aren’t aware that a local establishment’s management has decided to remove plastic straws from its beverage service, this proactive policy can either inspire them to be part of the solution to our plastic pollution binge or incite angry feelings over not having the freedom of choice in the matter.

“No straws? It’s those liberal environmentalists’ fault!”

How is it that the business of plastic consumption in our nation has become a partisan political issue? Social media platforms are full of memes and debates on whether there is a plastic straw conspiracy to disallow Americans their right to use the narrow tube of liquid access. While it isn’t fair to point the blame on one major political party over the other, there are some events in the past few years that have brought this issue to a fever pitch in water cooler circles at the offices and our social media universe nationwide.

A Straw Is Born

A simple search of “plastic drinking straws pollution” in Google reveals countless sources documenting statistics on how much trash the United States produces and offering various solutions to combating this trend of producing and consuming plastics faster than we could ever re-use, recycle, or properly dispose of — if there is such a concept on Earth. It turns out there are many individuals who have either started discussions, non-profit groups, and other entities geared toward the goal of finding a solution to an ever-increasing problem with our plastic production and consumption.

If you don’t know him already, let me introduce Milo Cress of www.ecocycle.org. He was all of 9 years old in February 2011 when he conducted his own research to get an idea of approximately how many plastic straws were being discarded in the United States. Following his conclusions he became the founder, co-director and primary spokesperson of the Be Straw Free project. The phenomenon of questioning plastic straw use is young and now increasing with political undertones that are unproductive.

As a youngster, Milo Cress recognized that most times his drinks were delivered with a straw but weren’t necessary. He now encourages the “Offer First” policy where restaurants offer straws first to the customer instead of serving one with every drink. Cress also stresses that people eating at the restaurants order their drinks specifically without a straw whenever they don’t need or want one.

When you read through something like Cress’ project and thought process behind it, there is the hope that it should be received well by most people. His quote listed on the website is a great model of inspiring an attitude of personal responsibility in all of us, young and old:

“Here’s the thing: this planet’s not a place that kids will inherit at some point, far off in the distant future. We live here right now, and we share this planet already.” — Milo Cress

Reaching For Legal Information To The Last Drop

Last month countless newspaper and cable TV outlets reported that California had begun to impose stricter rules surrounding the handing out of plastic drinking straws to customers. Here are a few examples cited by The San Diego-Union Tribune:

· Malibu, CA: Voted in February to ban plastic straws and cutlery in retail stores and restaurants over concerns for the environment.

· Manhattan Beach in Los Angeles County also passed a similar ban on bars and restaurants with dispensing straws in April.

· San Luis Obispo passed ordinances last year that plastic straws could only be available by request in the city. Additionally plastic bottles and cups were banned from city farmers’ markets and concerts.

· Santa Cruz has banned plastic straws and cutlery in food service businesses since 2017.

For another comprehensive look at this complicated issue of hyper-focusing on plastic straws while ignoring the tsunami of plastic behind everyone in civilization, check out The Los Angeles Times piece earlier this month. The editorial board goes into the collective hypocrisy that we’re participating in when we fuss over a grain of sand in a sandbox of an issue. In short, we’re inaundated by plastic packaging materials and our inaction continues the barrage of non-biodegradable waste.

The Foxnews report unfortunately took a defensive stance that didn’t help advance new ideas on how to continue tackling the behemoth “plastic poisoning” occurring on Earth and affecting everyone — despite our petty arguments about who is “liberal” and who is “right wing”.

While it’s a fair argument that many of these new rules and regulations can cause more problems along with more garbage, it would also be a good idea to help the internet and airwaves by flooding them with more positive discourse on how we can keep going forward with plastic straws and utensils in an efficient manner and then propose a few new plastics to address stoppage.

To Straw Or Not To Straw?

True, drinking that green power smoothie through a wide straw is not quite the same as slurping it from the side of that eco-friendly disposable (or compostable?) container. Have you tried Asian bubble tea that’s popular on the west coast? How would we replace those plastic straws that help bring those delecious tapioca pearls up to our mouths?

Implementing incentives to reduce the use of straws and other plastic waste products can be done. Through education it’s possible that many straw lovers would be inspired to change their habits, agreeing that it’s worth giving up a bit of plastic service in exchange for less waste. That will render less pollution faster than threatening harsh legal ramifications.

While offer-first policies are simple and practical, it’s over the top to penalize anyone not doing so with jail time.