By Kirk T. Schroder, Ellwood Thompson’s Food Advocate

Why Plastic Straws are Just the Beginning

Parts of the United States are finally admitting it- we have a plastic problem. In 2016, global plastic consumption totaled around 335 million metric tons. Of that total 79% accumulated in a landfill or the natural world. An estimated 8 million metric tons of plastic ended up in the world’s oceans. If nothing is done, scientists estimate that figure could increase to 155 million metric tons of plastic in the ocean by 2025.

The first step in solving a problem is admitting there is one. But how do we solve a 335 million metric ton problem? Some, like California Governor Jerry Brown say we have to start somewhere- and he’s starting with plastic straws. According to the National Park Service, Americans use over 500 million plastic straws per day. To help reduce that number, Governor Brown signed a law removing plastic straws from the drinks of all California restaurant-goers, unless they specifically ask for one. Other places have quickly followed suit: Starbucks has vowed to remove plastic straws from all stores by 2020 and cities such as Seattle, San Francisco, Malibu, and Miami Beach have already passed ordinances prohibiting plastic straws.

There has been some pushback to a broad ban of plastic straws. Studies are mixed on whether forgoing plastic straws actually promotes more environmentally responsible behavior. Additionally, some disability rights organizations argue a ban could negatively affect people with disabilities who rely on the flexibility of plastic straws.

Some are looking to soften the blow of an outright ban of plastic straws by offering more environmentally-friendly alternatives to plastic. For example, Starbucks plans to phase out all plastic straws and replace them with reusable lids by 2020. Hilton Hotels is hoping to replace plastic straws with a more biodegradable option, such as paper, by 2030. Royal Caribbean and American Airlines are also following suit, having instituted plans to replace plastic straws with paper straws by 2019. Some companies, such as True Green Paper, are even exploring compostable and bamboo straws as a more environmentally-conscious option.

Whatever the option is, it’s clear that plastic is the worst of them. A step away from plastic, whether it’s straws, utensils, or bags, is a step in the right direction.

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