Plas­tic straw bans ripped as all pain, no gain

‘Sym­bolic’ ges­ture harm­ful to dis­abled

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY VA­LERIE RICHARD­SON

The rush to clean up the oceans by deep­six­ing plas­tic straws is swelling as big cor­po­rate fish such as Star­bucks jump aboard, even as skep­ti­cism builds over whether the cam­paign is more trou­ble than it’s worth.

The cof­fee gi­ant an­nounced Tues­day that it will elim­i­nate by 2020 its sig­na­ture sin­gle-use green straws, the kind found in Frap­puc­ci­nos and other cold drinks, join­ing a grow­ing list that in­cludes Hil­ton, Hy­att, Amer­i­can Air­lines, SeaWorld and IKEA.

The ris­ing tide has alarmed dis­abled peo­ple, many of whom can­not drink from stan­dard cups, while re­search has shown that when it comes to ocean waste, plas­tic straws and uten­sils dis­carded by U.S. con­sumers rep­re­sent a drop in the bucket.

“It’s a sym­bolic ef­fort that isn’t go­ing to help any­thing,” said An­gela Lo­go­masini, se­nior fel­low at the free mar­ket Com­pet­i­tive En­ter­prise In­sti­tute. “We’re trad­ing a lot for noth­ing in re­turn.”

She pointed to a 2017 study by Ger­man re­searchers in the jour­nal En­vi­ron­men­tal Sci­ence & Tech­nol­ogy that found 10 rivers in Asia and Africa are re­spon­si­ble for 88 per­cent

to 95 per­cent of plas­tic de­bris found in the world’s oceans.

“The con­cern is about plas­tics in the ocean, which is a real con­cern, but ban­ning plas­tic straws isn’t go­ing to fix it be­cause they’re not the source of the prob­lem,” said Ms. Lo­go­masini. “The prob­lem is a dis­posal prob­lem. Most of it is in Asia and Africa be­cause they have open dumps and they pour tons of trash into the ocean. They don’t have the proper dis­posal meth­ods. If you dis­pose of some­thing prop­erly, it’s not a prob­lem.”

A study pub­lished in March by Ocean Cleanup found that 52 per­cent of the de­bris in the Great Pa­cific Garbage Patch was fish­ing nets, ropes and lines, while “mi­croplas­tics” ac­counted for 8 per­cent of the to­tal mass.

Com­pa­nies have said they will phase in pa­per straws or bam­boo cof­fee-stir­rers, but Ms. Lo­go­masini pointed out that plas­tic prod­ucts are more en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly than those made of pa­per in at least one re­spect: Pro­duc­ing plas­tic takes less en­ergy.

“Mak­ing pa­per is more en­ergy-in­ten­sive. So are we get­ting ahead? Prob­a­bly not. I mean, it’s stupid,” she said. “Why would Star­bucks ban straws in Omaha, Ne­braska? They’re not get­ting in the ocean in Omaha, Ne­braska. It’s ridicu­lous.”

Even en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists cheer­ing bans on plas­tic straws have ac­knowl­edged that they won’t have much im­pact on ocean pol­lu­tion, but they de­fend the cam­paign as a way of rais­ing aware­ness about the is­sue.

“Ban­ning plas­tic straws won’t save the oceans. But we should do it any­way,” said a Mon­day ar­ti­cle in Vox.

Dune Ives, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Lonely Whale, which launched last year the Straw­less in Seat­tle cam­paign, said “the straw be­comes this gate­way con­ver­sa­tion that makes you re­al­ize how per­va­sive and ubiq­ui­tous the prob­lem is.”

“Our straw cam­paign is not re­ally about straws,” Mr. Ives told Vox. “It’s about point­ing out how preva­lent sin­gleuse plas­tics are in our lives. Putting up a mir­ror to hold us ac­count­able. We’ve all been asleep at the wheel.”

Lever­ag­ing bans on plas­tic straws to draw at­ten­tion to ocean garbage has re­al­world con­se­quences for the dis­abled, how­ever, many of whom can­not lift cups to their mouths or sub­sti­tute pa­per or bam­boo straws.

Lawrence Carter-Long, a spokesman for the Dis­abil­ity Rights Ed­u­ca­tion & De­fense Fund, faulted Seat­tle, which banned plas­tic uten­sils and straws this month, for fail­ing to con­sult with or take into ac­count dis­abled peo­ple be­fore mov­ing ahead.

“Ev­ery­one would like to see vi­able op­tions to plas­tic straws, but the prac­ti­cal re­al­ity is they don’t yet ex­ist. So we need to take that into ac­count,” said Mr. Carter-Long. “We need to make those ac­com­mo­da­tions.”

Seat­tle of­fi­cials have said that restau­rants may pro­vide plas­tic straws to dis­abled cus­tomers on re­quest, but Mr. Carter-Long said es­tab­lish­ments have yet to make the ex­emp­tion known.

“You’ve got to make that in­for­ma­tion available both to the pub­lic and restau­rant own­ers,” he said. “What we’re hear­ing in Seat­tle is the restau­rant own­ers are be­ing told one thing — there’s an out­right ban, no one can use plas­tic straws — and dis­abled peo­ple when they’re call­ing and ask­ing about this are be­ing told there’s an ex­emp­tion, but no­body’s seen the ex­emp­tion.”

Oth­ers ar­gue that plas­tic straws are more san­i­tary. They cite con­cerns about sal­mo­nella ris­ing from cloth shop­ping bags, which have be­come more pop­u­lar in the face of bans on plas­tic bags.

Even so, mo­men­tum keeps build­ing. New York City and San Fran­cisco are con­sid­er­ing sim­i­lar mea­sures, and Mr. Carter-Long said there is scut­tle­butt that Congress will take up a ban on plas­tic straws.

Cer­tainly the anti-plas­tic camp has com­pelling PR. A 2015 video show­ing a sea tur­tle with a plas­tic straw stuck in its nose drew world­wide at­ten­tion, while the #Stop­Suck­ing cam­paign on so­cial me­dia has drawn sup­port from celebri­ties, in­clud­ing New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots quar­ter­back Tom Brady.

“No more sin­gle-use plas­tic straws. The ef­fect of these lit­tle guys [is] pos­ing a huge health risk to our planet,” Mr. Brady said in a video posted last month on In­sta­gram.

Star­bucks, which uses an es­ti­mated 1 bil­lion straws per year at its 28,000 com­pany-owned stores, plans to phase in re­cy­clable straws and re­designed lids that re­sem­ble “sippy” cups.

Ni­cholas Mal­los, di­rec­tor of the Ocean Con­ser­vancy’s Trash Free Seas pro­gram, urged com­pa­nies to fol­low Star­bucks’ ex­am­ple, cit­ing the “im­por­tant role that com­pa­nies can play in stem­ming the tide of ocean plas­tic.”

“With eight mil­lion met­ric tons of plas­tic en­ter­ing the ocean ev­ery year, we can­not af­ford to let in­dus­try sit on the side­lines, and we are grate­ful for Star­bucks lead­er­ship in this space,” Mr. Mal­los said in a state­ment.

Com­pa­nies de­ter­mined to make a real dif­fer­ence may want to spend less time fo­cused on straws and more time on the waste­water sit­u­a­tion in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries, said Julie Gun­lock, se­nior fel­low at the In­de­pen­dent Women’s Fo­rum.

“In­stead of Amer­i­can com­pa­nies ges­tur­ing their con­cern by ban­ning straws in Amer­i­can cof­fee houses,” Ms. Gun­lock said in a Fed­er­al­ist op-ed, “they might fo­cus their en­ergy and money (money Star­bucks is cur­rently us­ing to tran­si­tion each store’s straw and lid stocks), to real so­lu­tions — like help­ing to bet­ter de­velop and mod­ern­ize waste wa­ter treat­ment in Asia and Africa.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

New York is one of the cities across the coun­try that is ban­ning plas­tic drink­ing straws. En­vi­ron­men­tal­ists ac­knowl­edge that the bans won’t have much im­pact on ocean pol­lu­tion but de­fend the cam­paign as a way to raise aware­ness about the prob­lem.

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