In a radio PSA for Zero Waste Week, students speak over the sound of waves and squawking seabirds, encouraging listeners to “go green and think blue.” Then they rattle off easy ways to do it:
“Use reusable drink bottles and bags, say no to plastic straws, step up recycling and composting efforts, buy more in bulk and power down our computers and other electrical devices when not in use.”
Plastic water bottles and disposable plastic bags have been on the environmental hit list for years now. But plastic straws are a fairly new target. They’re also appearing on the ZWW posters, where sponsors include the Last Plastic Straw campaign (www.thelastplasticstraw.org).
It’s a project of Save Our Shores, the Santa Cruz-based nonprofit that helped spearhead the disposable plastic bag and styrofoam take-out container bans adopted by almost every local jurisdiction along the Monterey Bay coastline.
But this time, organizers aren’t going for a ban. Instead, they’re encouraging bar and restaurant owners to provide straws only at customers’ request instead of automatically plopping them in every drink. When restaurants do use straws, the campaign asks them to switch to biodegradable ones.
The rest of us can specifically request “no straw” when drinking out, and explain why. Those who really prefer their liquids through a tube can get in the habit of carrying reusable straws made of glass, stainless steel or bamboo that slip neatly into a purse or pocket. A roomier bag can hold a “BYO” kit: a reusable travel mug packed with a cloth hand towel, a compact shopping bag, a reusable straw and a spork.
According to Save Our Shores data, Americans throw away 500 million plastic straws a day – enough to circle the Earth two and a half times.
Zero Waste Week founder Peter Hiller and Carmel Valley conservationist/author Brandon Wiggins are leading the Last Straw campaign in Monterey County.
“Plastic straws are so ubiquitous. You almost can’t sit down at a restaurant without having one offered to you before you have a chance to object,” Hiller says. “The irony is, you look at this little innocent straw and think it’s no big deal. But it’s one of the most common trash pieces there is, and they’re used by the thousands by restaurants.”
The effort is still in its early stages, but several local restaurants have already taken up the challenge. Haute Enchilada in Moss Landing, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Cafe and Carmel Belle are now using paper straws.
Hiller notes the table cards in many area restaurants advising customers they’ll only receive water upon request, in sensitivity to California’s water shortage. It wouldn’t be too hard, he reasons, to make straws by request, too.
That “choose your waste” approach inspired an Ocean Guardian grant to Los Arboles Middle School. Since the school installed utensil and straw dispensers last year, students have been able to take only what they need instead of receiving plastic utensil pouches with each lunch.
The dispensers reportedly reduced Los Arboles’ plastic utensil use by 42 percent and straw use by 84 percent.
Amazing what a little choice can do.