March 2017: Say “No” to Plastic Straws … Except as Art Materials!
Next month, Sustainable Lafayette will host its 12th annual Earth Day Festival in downtown Lafayette, in partnership with the Lafayette Chamber of Commerce. The theme is “Sustainable Youth,” and most of the cool projects and activities will be either created by local schoolkids or designed to entertain and educate them.
One cooperative art project at the April 23 Festival will utilize thousands of plastic straws that have been collected from California beaches. It will raise awareness of the vast quantity of plastic pollution in our oceans and on our shores. Eighty percent of all marine debris found in the ocean originated on land, and 80-90% of that marine debris is made from plastic.
Astonishingly, 500 million – yes, that’s half a billion – plastic straws are used and discarded in the United States every single day. That’s more than a straw a day for every man, woman and child in the country. In one day, America’s discarded straws could wrap around the earth’s equator 2½ times.
The use of plastic has exploded in the past 50 years because it’s light, durable, moldable, cheap, and water resistant. Yet it is increasingly obvious that plastic is bad for the environment, and bad for our health. Some of the issues:
Plastic doesn’t biodegrade – It takes hundreds of years to biodegrade, so every ounce of plastic that’s ever been created is still in our environment somewhere.
Plastic recycling is sort of a myth – Most plastic in the U.S. isn’t recycled and the plastic that is collected is expensive to process and is really “down-cycled” to textiles, bumpers, or plastic lumber – all unrecyclable products.
Plastic is a health concern – There are increasing reports on the human health effects of chemicals used in plastic products, such as Bisphenol-A in hard plastics, PFOA in non-stick coatings, and others.
So, reducing the amount of plastic in your life is an important goal. Try to avoid anything that is single use or disposable. We hope you have already moved in that direction in two easy and obvious ways – 1) carrying reusable bags to the grocery store, and 2) refilling with free tap water your stainless steel, glass or BPA-free bottle.
Next step…no more plastic straws! When you’re at a restaurant, use your consumer power to speak up: Ask for no straw with your drink. Then sip away.
OK, so you really love using a straw, or you have a little one who makes a terrible without one. The solution is obvious: bring your own. There are great plastic-free alternatives (stainless steel, bamboo, and sturdy glass) that you can carry along. And if you are worried about cleanliness, there are simple and thorough ways to clean them (how about dish soap and a pipe cleaner?). Here are some links for reusable straws: Simply Straws, Life Without Plastic, Glass Dharma Straws and Bamboo Straws.
Finally, let your local restaurant, eatery, or cafe know that you would like to see straws given out on request only, or switch to a compostable or paper version. Lafayette was able to ban single-use plastic bags – and all of California followed suit – perhaps next we could consider taking aim at plastic straws!
Recycling has become second nature to most of us; we also can train ourselves to reduce our consumption of plastic. To learn more about how to live plastic free visit: My Plastic Free Life and to learn about plastic misconceptions visit: The Ecology Center.
Visit sustainablelafayette.org for more information about transforming your home and community into more sustainable places with enhanced quality of life.