Thursday, August 23, 2018

Removing a Few More Straws from the Ocean Slurpee

Good News - Not Great News for California Plastic Pollution Advocates

Americans throw away 500 million straws per day, enough to circle the Earth twice. These cylindrical pieces of plastic are significantly contributing to the growing slurry of plastic pollution in our oceans.

Plastic does not degrade, and according to a study funded by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, by the year 2050, there will be more plastic in the sea than fish unless we drastically change our habits and laws.

How can we best curb this problem?  Stopping the glut of straw usage is our smartest and most pragmatic line of defense. Recycling is good and we must continue this practice. However, with the “tidal wave” of plastics entering our waterways and oceans constantly increasing in size, we need to think of ways to stop plastic production and then our follow-up game will be to clean up the existing problem. 

On January 17, 2018, California Assemblyman Ian Calderon (D-57 CA) introduced a bill, AB 1884 that will curb plastic straw consumption in California. This bill will require consumers to request straws before their server provides the plastic amenity. This bill will still allow restaurants to serve straws upon request. Plastic straws are targeted because they are single-use plastics, discarded in large quantities and are rarely essential. Sea Save Foundation rallied behind this critical bill using by raising awareness and leveraging a tool connecting voters to their representatives.

Due to pushback, Calderon recently amended his bill to exclude fast food eateries and other non-full service restaurants. This is unfortunate because the majority of straw pollution usage emanates from fast-food hubs. The bill passed the Senate on August 20th and is currently sitting on the Governor’s desk awaiting his signature.  Brown is expected to support this bill and sign it into law within the next two weeks.

Is it time for conservationists to celebrate? The final text only includes full-service restaurants, leaving much room for single-use plastic straws to still end up in our landfills. However, when addressing the Senate Standing Committee on Environmental Quality, Calderon stated: “I purposefully structured the bill this way because I wanted to get something through the Legislature, and I want to get something on the governor's desk.”

Historically, successful efforts have started with a single, small step forward. The fight against single-use plastics is not over by far, but this is a step in the right direction.

- Georgienne Bradley and Stephanie Rice