Jul 02 2018

Is Banning Plastic Straws a Viable Solution?

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You probably have a friend that judged you for getting a plastic straw at a restaurant or blatantly told you not to get one. But why? If you’re not aware of the environmental effects from discarded plastic straws, the article: Why are plastic straws so bad for the environment?, would be a great precursor to understanding the background of the management decisions outlined in this blog post.

So far in 2018, three states have contemplated adding legislation regarding the use of plastic straws, but there is strong resistance. As of right now, this legislation is pending in both California and New York, and has already been shut down in Hawaii (Powell 2018). It makes sense that the states fighting against single use plastic straws are coastal states due to the dramatic impact they can have on marine environments. One alternative to an outright ban that some cities have used is to provide plastic straws only to customers who request one rather than giving them out to everyone as a default.

Before reading into this topic, I had always tried my best to avoid using plastic straws as much as possible. I figured that restaurants might save money while avoiding any negative backlash from the community from having legislation disallowing single use plastic straws, as it isn’t their decision. I now realize that I hadn’t considered the full lifecycle assessment of the product and that users may have reasons other than consumer convenience.

List of Current Progress in US Cities: The Pew Charitable Trusts

At its core, a solution to plastic straws is seen by some in the field of marine contamination as low-hanging fruit due to the unnecessary nature of a straw, at least for most consumers. However, there are those consumers who would be adversely affected by a ban on plastic straws, even if paper straws were instituted as a replacement: those living with disabilities. One opponent to the ban suffers from cerebral palsy and would thus be unable to drink independently without the assistance a straw provides (Powell 2018). In this way, the argument surrounding plastic straws centers around whether disability rights take precedence over environmental legislation. Although alternatives are available, paper straws have been noted to get soggy and become a choking hazard, and reusable or compostable straws are more expensive. This price aspect is important to note due to the fact that statistically, people with disabilities are more likely to be below the federal poverty level.

The possibility for opt-in proposals, however, still remains a possibility. Fast food chains and companies like McDonald’s use millions of straws daily, but stockholders of McDonald’s rejected a proposal to focus on efforts to find alternatives to plastic straws. The company claims that this is due to the fact that it is already invested in research for alternatives, likely due to the plastic straw ban in the UK leading them to invest in paper straws as a replacement (Stateline 2018). The problem arises that opt-in programs in many cities don’t affect takeout-only restaurants and only apply to sit-down restaurants.

Gaining buy-in for government regulation limiting the acceptable behaviors of individuals is never an easy task. In many situations, the convenience of a straw can make an experience such as drinking a Frappuccino with whipped cream that much more enjoyable and less messy. Therefore, the solution offered by a government ban may not be the right answer, although this is a sign that both consumer and government officials are aware of the problems posed by plastic straws, and the larger broad problem of marine plastic contamination.

 

References

 Powell, Robyn. “Opinion | I Need Plastic Straws To Drink. I Also Want To Save The Environment.” The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 13 June 2018, www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/opinion-powell-straw-ban_us_5b1e76ade4b0bbb7a0df9303.

Stateline. “She Sells Soda By The Seashore – But Maybe Not With A Plastic Straw.” The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 29 June 2018, www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/she-sells-soda-by-the-seashore-but-maybe-not-with_us_5b3636e5e4b0121d528acb53.

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