Seattle just became the first major U.S. city to ban plastic straws in bars and restaurants, and it likely won’t be the last. Dozens more cities, including San Francisco and New York, and a couple of states are considering similar bans, as are restaurant chains.
Oakland, Malibu, San Luis Obispo and other California cities have passed laws requiring that patrons ask for straws instead of getting them automatically. Miami Beach bans the use of straws on beaches, and New York City is now considering a straw ban.
Taking a stand against straws makes sense. Plastic straws we use today will still be around in hundreds of years. Plastic litter is piling up in our oceans, where animals eat and choke on it.
Some 700 species of marine animals have eaten or become entangled in plastic. Little plastic bits get mistaken for food by fish, sea turtles, birds and other wildlife. Micro-plastics are in our seafood and drinking water long after the straws are discarded.
But can plastic straw bans scale up? That’s a crucial question because the scale of the plastic pollution problem is enormous.
The World Economic Forum predicts that the weight of plastic in our oceans will exceed that of all the fish in the sea by 2050. Already, there are more than 5 trillion pieces of plastic floating in our oceans.
Even our paltry recycling efforts have left a trail of toxins and as much as 111 million tons of plastic with nowhere to go now that China refuses to take it. Meanwhile, the industry recklessly plans to bump up plastic production by 40 percent over the next decade.
Straw bans should help usher in more robust plastic regulations.
I hope to see plastic companies held accountable for cleaning up and preventing plastic pollution. Single-use plastics should be restricted, and my organization petitioned the EPA to regulate some plastics as hazardous waste to ensure safe handling from cradle to grave.
Society has solved tough problems before, and we know how to fix this problem.
But my optimism is dampened by fear that too many of our state and federal legislators are beholden to the industry. The plastics lobby is actively fortifying its polluting position. Already, 10 states have passed laws that prevent local governments from acting against plastic pollution — some prevent plastic bag bans and others are broader.
It’s clear that we need strong leadership to tackle the plastic problem. Straws suck, and Seattle’s ban demonstrates that there are solutions. But it’s got to be just the start of a bigger movement to address the enormity of the ocean plastic problem.
Our world is awash in plastic, all of it produced in just the last few decades. Now is the time to recognize the dire threat plastics pose to clean oceans and healthy marine life. We need to break society free from plastics.
Miyoko Sakashita is director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s oceans program. Follow Sakashita on Twitter at @endangeredocean.