The Final Straw? Cities Banning Plastic, One Drink at a Time

4 min read

From your favorite green smoothie in the morning to that iced coffee pick-me-up in the afternoon, chances are, if you order a drink on the go, it’s going to be served to you with a plastic straw. You’re not alone.

Our Toxic Plastic Dependency

In fact, estimates show that in the United States alone, 500 million straws are produced daily, and we Americans use half a billion straws every day. That, according to Straw Free, is enough to wrap around Earth twice. The end result? Plastic from straws, bags and packaging is finding its way into our water supplies, polluting precious resources, killing marine life and adding up to billions of tons of non-degradable waste piling up in landfills and littering our streets. “It’s important for all of us to understand that plastic is made from fossil fuels, that once it’s created, it exists on this earth forever, and that our excessive use of plastic results in eight million tons of plastic trashing the ocean every year—scientists predict that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish,” says Rachel Lincoln Sarnoff, executive director of 5 Gyres.

While recycling is better than not taking any action, unfortunately, it’s not the answer many of us have been conditioned to believe it is. “I think the most important thing to understand is that when you throw a plastic bottle into a blue bin, it doesn’t typically get turned into another plastic bottle,” Rachel says. “The recycling system is broken. Countries like America and Europe use so much plastic that we’re exporting it to countries like India and Indonesia, where systems have not been designed to manage it. The best thing we can do is stop using so much, especially unnecessary single-use plastics like cups, bags, bottles and straws.”

Cities Leading the Shift

Some U.S. cities are leading the charge to alter our plastic dependency by banning plastic straws and other single-use plastic, like shopping bags and cutlery. As of June 1, Malibu, California, will ban straws and utensils to help protect its treasured beaches from their devastating impact, adding to its list of already banned plastic lids and bags. Businesses in Malibu will provide customers with eco-friendly plastic alternatives for straws, utensils and drink stirrers—and other cities on both coasts are on board.

According to the The New York Times, Seattle, Washington; Davis and San Luis Obispo, California; Miami Beach and Fort Meyers, Florida have all passed laws to limit or ban the use of plastic straws because of their harmful effects on the environment.

While the plastics problem seems daunting—indeed, only 9 percent of non-fiber plastic in the States is recycled—each small decision we make as consumers matters.

Image courtesy of Portmouth Press.

How You Can Make a Difference

Though the plastic problem seems daunting, Rachel believes we can take action daily to make a difference. Here are her tips for ditching the plastic habit for good:

1. Refuse single-use plastic by bringing your own. Start with something simple, like a small, roll-up shopper stowed in your car or bag that expands to fit anything—from a pair of boots to groceries—so that you never have to take a plastic bag again. Then move on to bringing your own hydration: “I like a basic stainless steel cup, as I can use that for water, wine or even hot tea in a pinch,” says Rachel, “but most people prefer to carry a water bottle or canteen. I even carry a straw and a reusable cutlery set (available on our Plastic Free Shopping Guide) so I can refuse single-use plastic on the go.”
2. Support companies that are doing the right thing by avoiding plastic in manufacturing single-use products. There’s no reason why a facial scrub should include microbeads or a cotton bud a plastic stick! Take it one step further by contacting the manufacturer—there’s usually a form or phone number on the website. Let them know why you refuse to buy products that contain unnecessary plastics, and what they can do to regain your business—phase them out.
3. Get political, because individual activism only goes so far. Through 5 Gyres’ Nix the 6 campaign, you can check the map to see where there is a polystyrene ban you can support in your community—and if there’s not one, the tools you need to get one started. Just like microbeads, polystyrene plastic is unnecessary and environmentally damaging. Let’s get it banned!

Inspired to take action? Learn how to make your voice heard to save our water supplies and support our planet, and watch Rachel Lincoln Sarnoff ‘s TED Talk, “Can One Straw Change the World?”

About The Author

Amy Flyntz

Amy Flyntz

Amy Flyntz is a Brooklyn-based writer and the founder of Amy Flyntz Copywriting. She spends her days weaving words to woo the masses, reading memoirs (and her horoscope) and snuggling with her rescue dog, Linus. Amy can be reached at www.amyflyntz.com.

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