A Straw Poll: To Ban or No?

You may or may not have noticed that your favorite restaurants are no longer providing plastic straws with your water. Your margarita now comes strawless, forcing you to sip straight from the salty rim, or be that person that asks for one from the bartender (admittedly, me). Plastic straw bans are a quickly growing trend in California – in fact as of January 2019 restaurants are banned from giving them out (unless requested by a customer). 87% of my Instagram followers said they agreed with a ban, while 13% said they were skeptical. I too was a skeptic, until now.

What Changed My Mind

It’s been raining a LOT in Southern California this winter and because of that, many organizations like Surfrider Foundation and the Waterfront Cafe have organized beach clean-ups. Run-off water from the gutter brings litter from the street onto the beach during this time, and although a large tractor type sooper upper picks up a lot of the beach waste, it doesn’t get everything. So I grabbed a friend and went for a short cruise up the beach with our plastic bag in hand. And of the most common items we grabbed out of the sand, were plastic straws (along with bottle caps, cigarettes, and stretchy wrappers/film plastic).

Cruising the Santa Monica / Venice beach for trash on a Saturday morning, organized by Waterfront Cafe.

The Straw that Started  a Ban-olution
For starters – do you remember the video that went viral a few years ago of the turtle that desperately had a straw stuck in its nose? A boat of researchers pulled it out after a hot 20 seconds of anticipation and tugging at the poor guy. We watched in agony as Mr. Turtle winced before being relieved of its agony. The straw was removed, the turtle bled a little blood, and it was dropped back into the ocean. The turtle survives. In case you missed it – here it is. And can we take a second to recognize how popular this turtle is? 44 million views!? God damn.

I think we can all agree that shit is for sure sad. Even companies like Starbucks have agreed to stop distribution. Before you decide your position, consider the following.

5 Reasons I [thought] the Ban was Ridiculous
It’s important to ask questions. To see both sides. So here are my thoughts of why this ban doesn’t work:

  1. Litter in California. This one is very important. Why are straws “bad” in the first place? It’s not because they contain a lot of plastic or are heavy thus contributing to the state’s goals of tonnage reduced to landfill. If that were the case we would surely be focusing on other materials like coffee cups or to-go containers right? Straws are bad because of Mr. Turtle and their ability to end up in waterways and the ocean. If you’ve ever visited a beach town in a developing country, you will surely know this truth (I’ve seen this tragedy first hand in Bali, the Dominican Republic, Thailand, Cambodia, Costa Rica, Mexico, Nicaragua…). BUT California has pretty damn good infrastructure in place for minimizing litter, especially out to the oceans (Update: False). So this shouldn’t really be a concern in our great state.
  2. Other Disposable plastics. What about them?
  3. Adverse perceptions. Won’t people think they are doing their part by not taking a plastic bag, and then won’t think twice about the to-go container that they take (and don’t even eat from).
  4. Other countries. The waste management systems in other countries are much, much worse. In fact some Asian countries have built landfills on seashores.
  5. Straw replacements (what happened with the plastic bag ban?). Do you remember when we voted on the plastic bag ban in California in 2016? And those thin bags were replaced with a much thicker, more durable plastic bag that costs 25 cents at check-out? Well the new “reusable” bags contain 6 times more plastic than their predecessor. So did we really solve the problem? What will straws get replaced with? Paper straws? Sure, those are great because they will decompose naturally in the ocean without harm. But what about reusable straw? If you’ve ever tried washing one out, you know they’re a pain in the ASS, and waste a lot more water than what their worth as a straw replacement.

So. What am I really trying to say here… education is SO important. I used to be a nay-sayer on bans like this. Until I saw for myself the reality. Next time you’re at the beach, scan the sand and see if you can find any straws. And if your workplace has straws, consider putting up these awesome signs that are free to create and download.


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