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The growing movement to ban plastic straws

Activists believe the anti-straw push can advance more rapidly because, while some people view plastic bags as something of a necessity, straws are generally viewed as a small indulgence that consumers can do without.

”Straws are something anyone can give up easily without having it affect their lifestyle,” said Diana Lofflin, founder of StrawFree.org, a San Diego-based nonprofit. “It’s a small step anyone can take to make a global impact.”

The initiatives seem to be gaining energy because of viral photos and videos of seals trapped in plastic netting, dead whales disgorging mounds of plastic and — in one video viewed nearly 25 million times on YouTube — a sea turtle suffering as rescuers struggle to remove a straw from its nose.

The growing movement to ban plastic straws
The growing movement to ban plastic straws

California and Hawaii are pondering statewide action to regulate distribution of plastic straws, but most of the efforts on the issue have taken place at the local level, with more than a dozen cities and towns banning or limiting distribution of the disposable items — including Alameda, Carmel, Davis, Malibu, Manhattan Beach, Oakland, Richmond and San Luis Obispo in California; Seattle and Edmonds in the State of Washington; Miami Beach and Ft. Meyers in Florida; and Monmouth Beach in New Jersey.

New York City would become by far the biggest jurisdiction joining the ban if lawmakers and the mayor approve a proposal introduced this week that would prohibit bars, restaurants and other locations from offering single-use plastic straws or stirrers. Paper straws could be offered as an alternative.

The bill’s sponsor, councilman Rafael L. Espinal Jr., said the “luxury” item was causing “great harm to other environments.”

The Wildlife Conservation Society has launched a “Give a Sip” campaign to support the New York proposal. The organization cited a World Economic Forum report that said, at the current rate of accumulation, the amount of plastic in the oceans will outweigh all the fish in the oceans by 2050. Eight million metric tons of plastic finds its way into the oceans each year, the report said.

Image: Mega Expedition mothership R/V Ocean Starr crew pull a ghost net from the Pacific Ocean
Mega Expedition mothership R/V Ocean Starr crew pull a ghost net from the Pacific Ocean in 2015. The vast dump of plastic waste swirling in the Pacific ocean is now bigger than France, Germany and Spain combined — far larger than previously feared — and is growing rapidly, a study published on March 22, 2018 warned.Ocean Cleanup / AFP – Getty Images file

The impact on sea life has been immense, said John Calvelli, the leader of Give a Sip campaign. Research has found that 70 percent of seabirds and 30 percent of sea turtles have some amount of plastic in their systems, Calvelli said.

And plastic straws are high on the list of the most common objects fouling the seas. They are routinely among the 10 most collected items in beach cleanup programs, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society. The organization hopes that if plastic straws are banned in New York City, that will create momentum for other jurisdictions to take up the cause. Chicago and Providence, Rhode Island, have also expressed interest in controlling plastic straws, Calvelli said.

An executive at the Plastics Industry Association (motto: “Better Industry. Better World.”) said the organization also wants to cut the flow of plastic into the oceans. But the best way to do that is for governments to invest more in recycling and waste management, said Scott DeFife, vice president of government affairs for the trade group.

“Banning a specific product that is one small part of the larger problem is not a solution to the marine debris issue,” DeFife said. He said the bans give a “false sense of accomplishment” and that a real solution to the problem will only come when government invests more in managing trash.

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