Co-authored by Linda Escalante, Southern California Legislative Director
Do I really need a straw to get to that iced tea? That’s what one of the bills making its way through the California legislature has me thinking about now; the small but important choices we make every day.
Assembly Bill 1884 by Assembly Members Calderon and Bloom would require full service restaurants to have a straws-only-upon request policy. This change to the default of automatically handing out free straws can help reduce the negative impacts of plastic pollution and give us an opportunity to realize how easy it is to avoid small plastic items that we use once and then throw away. Even just knowing about the bill has me saying “no thank you” to straws.
Single-use plastic straws are just one of the many items littering our environment and threatening wildlife. Earth’s waterways, beaches, and oceans are suffering from an onslaught of negative impacts from human activities and pollution. Plastic pollution is one of the main environmental threats to the seas, along with climate change, oil spills, and overfishing. According to a report by the World Economic Forum, there could be more plastic by weight than fish in the world’s oceans by 2050. Since plastic doesn’t biodegrade for centuries, the plastic debris in the seas can injure or kill marine life while over time it breaks down into micro particles that can make their way up the food chain along with the toxins they pick up along the way.
The problem of plastic pollution is global but it must be addressed locally. As Californians, we take great pride and pleasure in our beautiful coast and its treasures. The 1,100-mile coastline of the 5th largest economy in the world is home to most of its population and is a large part of the state’s economic activity. The tourism and recreation portion of California’s ocean economy provides more than 418,000 jobs and generates over $22 billion in GDP. Thus, Californians take ocean protection seriously and support policy proposals to reduce threats to our marine environment, including plastic pollution.
In recent years, we have passed laws to reduce plastic pollution such as bans on single-use plastic bags and microbeads in personal products. And in 2016, voters saw through confusing, competing ballot initiatives and upheld the state’s plastic bag ban. But, according to data from the Ocean Conservancy’s 2017 International Coastal Cleanup, plastic straws were the 7th most common item found globally. Straws are rarely recycled as they lack a resin code and are too small to be processed in most recycling centers. As a result, nearly every single-use plastic straw ever used is currently sitting in our landfills, has been incinerated, or is harming our environment.
AB 1884 simply means that if you need or want a straw while you are eating out, all you’ll have to do is ask your server for one. It’s a small adjustment for a consumer, while saving restaurants money and reducing the amount of plastic litter being generated. Experts agree that the best way to solve the plastic pollution problem is to decrease the amount of single-use plastic used in the first place. Plastic products like straws automatically included with our consumer experiences such as dining out, lead us to become accustomed and indifferent to their impact on the environment once we are done using them.
Unless you physically need straws to consume liquids while eating out, sipping your drinks like people have done since cups were invented should be an easy adjustment. It’s time to wean ourselves off the single-use straw. Show your appreciation for our coast and oceans by urging your state senator to support AB 1884.