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Plastic Straws Suck

StrawBy Colin Walsh

I am writing this for my daughter. I mean that in several senses. She is becoming aware of the environmental crisis her generation faces and she wants to do something about it. At 11 she is already a person of action and she has been inspired to by Greta Thunberg. I am writing because my daughter is inspiring me.

I am also writing because, she is right, we need to do something. Actually, we need to do a lot of things.

Last weekend, I brought home these great reusable straws from the Food Co-op for my daughter and it was like the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny showed up on the 4th of July. She wants to live her ideals and I am proud of her.

I am also writing this because when the Davis City Council passes ineffective ordinances it bothers me.

My daughter wants to talk about single use plastic straws. So, let’s talk about plastic straws.  - They suck.

Think about this, every single-use plastic straw you ever put to your lips in your life will outlive you, your children, your children’s children and so on for generations. FOR GENERATIONS. All so you could more easily slurp your Diet Coke or whatever. [Author slurps iced coffee through plastic straw because the coffee shop stuck it in without even asking today.]

There is plenty written about this, just look on The Google and search, “plastic straw ocean” and you will see a plethora of articles stating how horrible straws are, and even more articles that say banning straws is not nearly enough.

I completely agree that one more or less plastic straw in the scheme of the MASSIVE amount of plastic waste is not likely to be the straw that broke the ocean’s back, but my daughter asked if we could do something to get people to stop using plastic straws.

 In Davis there is not an easy answer.

I mean the council already passed an ordinance… let’s stop for a second and look at Davis Ordinance 2502 passed May 23, 2017. “AN ORDINANCE… TO ENACT PROCEDURES AND PROHIBITIONS REGARDING THE DISTRIBUTION OF BEVERAGE STRAWS TO REDUCE WASTE AND SETTING FORTH THE PENALTIES FOR VIOLATION.”

This ordinance is stupid. It does nothing, but its claims are massive. It’s a classic do-nothing-feel-good-ordinance.

The ordinance claims, “One of the City Council goals is to Pursue Environmental Sustainability.” - OK, off to a good start.

It then states, “The City Council desires to conserve resources and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, waste, litter, and pollution.” - Excellent, I am on board, how can I help?

Here comes the big one, “Eliminating the distribution of unneeded straws provided to customers reduces the amount of plastic that can end up in our environment through litter, windblown debris, and over flowing trash cans.” - YES let’s eradicate these villain straws!

And it will empower everyone with knowledge too! “To increase awareness in our community of the simple decisions we can all make to reduce waste;”

“To allow customers to make a choice regarding whether or not they want a straw for their beverage.” Hold on a second. I know about these other straws that are biodegradable and or reusable. It is possible to make a better choice and still have a straw. Its not necessarily an all or nothing choice. I notice that the Davis Food Co-op and Nugget Market both carry several non-plastic options now. The Davis ordinance makes no mention whatsoever of alternatives to plastic straws.

The need for straws is real. For some with disabilities (some age related some not) having a straw option is essential.

This last line about “choice,” has a darker purpose. Offering everyone a choice, means keeping the plastic straws readily available. Here is what the ordinance actually requires

Restaurants shall ask each Dine-In Customer if the customer wants a Single-Use Beverage Straw before providing a Single Use Beverage Straw to the customer.

Fast Food Service and Take-Out Food Orders are exempt from this ordinance.

Totally, not cool. All restaurants will still have plastic straws, you just must ask, but worse, the top distributors of plastic straws are exempt from the ordinance. This ordinance was clearly not worth the City Council and City staff’s time to pass it. Best case scenario it exempts the top plastic straw distributers – fast food, coffee and tea shops.

But here is what bothers me even more. Because the ordinance allows plastic straws, every restaurant I have been to in Davis lately still has plastic straws. I have yet to see a single restaurant in Davis that offers a greener straw. The only way to have a more sustainable straw is to bring my own. (Please submit comments below to promote any restaurants that are doing better.)

If the ordinance was really about choice as it claims to be, it could have at least mandated that restaurants offer reusable and biodegradable straws. – that would be choice.

Let’s be real. There has been no significant change to plastic straw consumption in Davis since the Council passed the “straw ban”.

Sure, using no straw at all is the best option, but let’s face it we live in the great American straw culture, and we need to do more than just have a weak-ass-no-effect-ordinance like this if we are going to move the needle and reduce plastic straw consumption.

Of course, some people hate this ordinance because it appears to be green and takes away your god given straw liberties, so it’s a lose, lose, loser.

The City Council wasted everyone’s time with this ordinance, but it got a unanimous vote when it passed with Will Arnold, Lucas Frerichs, and Brett Lee (all up for reelection in March 2020) all voting in favor of it.

My daughter wants to know what she can do to have less plastic end up in our ocean. She wants to know what can be done to reduce straw use. I am at a loss as to explain what the Davis City Council has done, or rather not done.

She also wants to talk about the waste in the school lunches and we will have to get to that next.



Roberta L. Millstein

Thank you for this, Colin. I also hate ordinances that appear to do something but really don’t, especially greenwashed ones.

I’ve seen reusable metal straws. Those could be provided in sit down restaurants. I’ve also seen paper straws, but like you, I don’t recall seeing them in Davis. I just got back from a conference in Vancouver. The hotel bar and restaurant gave out paper straws, period. It would still be good if everyone asked you if you needed a straw, just like they now ask if you need a bag, but there is no reason that the straw needs to be plastic.

Rick Entrikin

Great analysis of the non-ordinance, Colin. Now some good news. Had a diet drink with dinner Tuesday at Symposium and the beverage was served without a straw. Badly, I asked for a straw but, happily, the straw was NOT plastic. it was thicker than plastic, spiral-wound and began to separate at mouth tip by end of use. Didn't think to ask, but seemed like wax-coated paper substance. Go (to), Symposium!

Donna Lemongello

And it's all so damn obvious it makes me want to scream. We are collectively ridiculous, "straw culture", absurd. I can't even remember the last time I used a straw, and when I am given one I COMPLAIN. They should only be used in need, and yes, then a biodegradable one like when I was a kid, or a newfangled reusable one like we have now. Oh yeah, I'm supposed to say that's an opinion, I assert that some things are not just an opinion, some things are brutally right or wrong. Why does anyone even need to be told, controlled, or given a choice to have a plastic one?

Eva M Dopico

Thanks Colin for supporting your daughter's concerns about single-use plastic use!!
It is an issue that concerns me deeply too. This is some data that I have just easily found for people who still think that we are not living in the "straw culture" or in the "single-use plastic culture". Yes, I think we are and we should start doing more things to educate people about these important issues.
"In just the U.S. alone, one estimate suggests 500 million straws are used every single day. One study published earlier this year estimated as many as 8.3 billion plastic straws pollute the world's beaches.
Eight million tons of plastic flow into the ocean every year, and straws comprise just 0.025 percent of that." from "A brief history of how plastic straws took over the world"
Recycling (Reduce, Reuse, Recycling and Refuse) is one of my favorite subjects to work with my students during April and Earth Day. I encourage them to start taking action about simple things like reducing the amount of garbage that they produce and make them aware about the big problems that planet Earth is facing and how to start helping the heat the Earth. I like to remind them that "Save the Earth. It's the only planet with chocolate!" :-) A little sense of humor is always good, even for serious issues like our planet survival!!
Thanks Colin for listening to your daughter's concerns and get inspired by them!!

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