California became the first state to announce a statewide ban on plastics in 2014, starting with the plastic bag. Hawaii quickly followed with a de facto ban on all non-biodegradable plastic bags in each of it’s major counties.
The latest plastic ban that cities, counties, and even states are looking to enact is targeted at one small, yet impactful culprit: the plastic straw.
New York City is the most recent city to consider banning plastic straws at all restaurants. The ban would include both plastic straws and plastic stirrers, and lead to up to $400 in fines if violated.
The plan was announced by New York city council member Rafael Espinal. Backed by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and in conjunction with the 130 restaurants that support the “Give a Sip” campaign, the plan states that no food service establishment or beverage service establishment will offer consumers any single-use beverage straw or stirrer made of plastic or any non-biodegradable material.
Plastic Straw Campaigns Around the U.S.
Do plastic straws actually make up that much of plastic waste? The answer is no, but they are one of the top ten items found on beaches around the world. In 2017, the Ocean Conservancy found enough plastic straws to surpass the height of the World Trade Center...145 times.
So no, plastic straws don’t make up a large percentage of plastic pollution, but they are extremely pervasive and advocates claim that plastic straw bans are not only beneficial to the environment, but also stimulus for more extensive cultural shifts in global plastic usage.
The campaign to get rid of the plastic straw first gained momentum in 2015, when a video of a straw being pulled from a turtle’s nose went viral—Every year, an estimated 100,000 dolphins, sharks, turtles, and whales are killed by suffocating on or ingesting plastic bags.
New York city may be the latest city to introduce a city-wide ban on plastic straws, but it definitely isn’t the first. There are now several campaigns, organizations, and proposals in support of the limitation on plastic straw use. Regarding city-wide bans, Seattle, Malibu, Davis, San Luis, Miami, and Fort Myers have all successfully approved plastic straw regulations. On July 1st, Seattle became the first major U.S. city to ban both plastic straws and utensils. Also, Portland recently announced that it too is considering a ban on plastic straws.
Global and Individual Impacts
Plastic straw bans are only one facet of the movement to reduce plastic consumption and waste on a global scale. Several restaurants and businesses, including McDonald’s and Alaska Airlines, are trialing plastic straw regulations and Britain is planning to ban the sale of plastic straws nationwide.
As a citizen and consumer, there are many things you can do to facilitate this movement and therefore the global reduction in plastic pollution. For starters, say no to plastic straws when offered one. You can also invest in your own reusable straw made out of metal, glass, or plastic, or switch to compostable paper straws. Individual actions may not seem to make a huge difference, but they absolutely do.
If you’re looking to make an even bigger impact, contact your local representative and pledge your support for plastic straw regulation in your own county, city, or state*.
The plastic straw may seem small and frivolous compared to our plastic problem at large, but support for plastic reduction is consequential regardless of size, and marks progressive steps towards overcoming the problem as a whole.
About The Author
David Evans is the founder of prch, a resource for eco-minded consumers. He is a minimalist, environmentalist, and conscious consumer with a background in environmental studies, conservation, and tech. Learn to improve your environmental and social impact @theprch.
*Note from Jenica Barrett: As much as I support the reduction of disposable plastic, it has also come to my attention that many of these bans negatively impact individuals with disabilities by denying them access to drinks at public restaurants. Straws were originally invented as a fix for many people with disabilities who otherwise were struggling to consume liquids. We need to be conscious of the changes we are making and whether our new laws truly take into account all the people effected. I encourage all my readers to become educated on this issue by reading this article by NPR and this article by my dear friend Kyann Flint at Life from a Lame Perspective. Although I believe that eliminating the use of the plastic straw for those non-disabled folks is a step in the right direction, denying others the right to drink and enjoy a restaurant is not. What are your thoughts?