Straw bans won't fix the plastic problem, but something else can

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Katherine Martinko 

September 24, 2018

What's really needed is a shift in American food culture.

Straw bans have gained impressive momentum over the past year. From Seattle pledging to ban straws in the city by 2020, Disney saying it would eliminate plastic straws and stirrers by next year, and San Francisco saying no even to bioplastic straws, to Starbucks remodelling its cups so as not to require a straw and Alaska Airlines removing them from food service, it's a big trend right now, aided by catchy hashtags like #stopsucking.

Lonely Whale is the group that pushed for Seattle's straw ban. Like many others in the environmental activism sphere, it views straws as a 'gateway plastic'. In other words, once people realize how easy it is to stop using straws, they will be motivated to eliminate other single-use plastics from their lives. Lonely Whale's executive director, Dune Ives, told Vox,

“Our straw campaign is not really about straws. It’s about pointing out how prevalent single-use plastics are in our lives, putting up a mirror to hold us accountable. We’ve all been asleep at the wheel.”

But how realistic is it that all the disposable plastics could be replaced with non-plastic alternatives? Think about it for a moment. Plastic-lined juice boxes and takeout coffee cups, sushi boxes and other take-home food containers, Styrofoam soup cups with lids, disposable cutlery, either loose or bundled with a paper napkin in a thin plastic bag, condiment sachets, bottled beverages, any packaged food you eat on the go, like hummus and crackers and pre-cut fruit or vegetables -- these are just a few of the plastic items people use on a regular basis. To get the plastic out of these things would be a monumental, and quite frankly, unrealistic, task.

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