Shortly after Seattle enacted a ban on plastic straws and utensils, Starbucks announced that it is phasing out plastic straws nationwide by 2020 (July 10) AP
Plastic straws make up only about 2,000 tons of the nearly 9 million tons of the ocean’s plastic waste: Our view
Are plastic straws an even greater menace to society than plastic guns? You might think so, given this summer’s upsurge in anti-straw activism.
The movement to ban single-use, plastic straws has gained momentum across the USA, pushed along by a heart-wrenching viral video of a sea turtle with a straw lodged in its nose.
Plastic straws are simple, inexpensive devices that perform their purpose well. That’s why they are so ubiquitous. But unlike other plastics, straws are so small and lightweight that they often get left out of the recycling process. People forget to recycle them. Or machines accidentally sort them out, causing them to end up in landfills and waterways.
Although plastic straws make up only about 2,000 tons of the nearly 9 million tons of the ocean’s plastic waste, they have suddenly become a symbol of all the unnecessary trash that ends up in the ocean, plus everything that’s wrong with the nation’s throwaway society.
OPPOSING VIEW: Why I introduced a ban on plastic straws for NYC
Last month, Seattle became the first U.S. major city to prohibit food service businesses from distributing plastic straws. Other cities, including New York, might soon follow. But while laws against plastic straws are well-intentioned, movements such as this are best executed without government bans.
Think back five years to then-New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s bid to ban Big Gulp-size sugary sodas in an effort to curb obesity. A judge struck down the ban a day before it was to take effect. Bloomberg’s plan was an overreach.
The focus should be on educating people to make environmentally conscious choices and on pursuing scientific solutions. Not all change needs to come from legislation. In fact, soda consumption was already dropping before Bloomberg proposed his ban.
The movement to ban plastic straws has also drawn concern from disabled people, who use plastic straws out of medical necessity. Cities with plastic straw bans have made exceptions for disabled customers, but they face the added inconvenience of having to bring their own straws or request one.
Consumers are also more likely to accept change, whether it concerns light bulbs or straws, when the heavy hand of the Nanny State isn’t involved. Government bans tend to generate hoarding, public backlash and culture war mutterings about having to pry straws from cold, dead lips.
Citizen activists, celebrities and private companies can take the lead on the challenge of reducing plastic waste. Starbucks announced recently that it will be plastic straw-free by 2020, and other companies are eager to follow suit. Meanwhile, scientists are working on degradable, self-destructing polymers.
Social media influencers and campaigns such as #StopSucking have the ability to persuade millions of people to change their behavior.
It’s everyone’s job to protect our planet. Government bans should be the last straw.
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