As more operators stop handing out plastic bags and switch to compostable and biodegradable takeout packaging, the next wasted plastic in focus are those ubiquitous drinking straws. Reports indicate that an estimated 500 million plastic straws end up in landfills every day.
Now, legislation recently introduced in California would actually make it illegal for servers to give customers plastic straws if they didn’t ask for them. The Straws Upon Request bill currently under review by the Assembly Natural Resources Committee seeks to reduce the overwhelming amount of single-use plastic that Californian’s consume on a daily basis and would require sit-down restaurants in the state to forgo the automatic distribution of straws in every drink. The cities of Davis and San Luis Obispo have already gone ahead with this restriction. Seattle, too, plans to ban plastic straws and utensils effective in July, and other cities are considering similar regulations.
And then there are specific institutions, like Walt Disney World and the Smithsonian, along with many zoos, that have taken steps to cut out the use of plastic straws throughout their facilities.
The shift to compostable/biodegradable paper straws among operators is on the rise as manufacturers continue to improve the heat threshold and durability in foodservice settings. Plastic straw alternatives include bamboo, stainless steel, metal and glass straws. Operators also innovate on their own, such as the Twizzlers that servers at Harlem Public in New York distribute with certain cocktails — the ends are cut off to create makeshift straws. For operators who care about managing their waste, swapping those plastic straws — which can end up in the noses of ocean animals and as litter on beaches — for biodegradable or reusable ones is a simple, low-hanging fruit option when it comes to cutting down on what they send to landfills.
In Florida, the #MiamiIsNotPlastic campaign — a joint effort between Key Biscayne Florida’s iconic waterfront restaurant Rusty Pelican, its neighboring sister restaurant Whisky Joe’s, and the Rickenbacker Marina — officially kicked off in January 2018. The initiative, like the bill in California, seeks to reduce single-use disposable plastic through the elimination of plastic straws as well as plastic to-go containers, utensils, kid’s cups and plastic coffee pods at restaurants. Since its launch, more restaurants have joined in the effort by pledging to forgo these products, and there are similar initiatives around the country, including in California, Seattle, Colorado, Kansas, and New York.
As the next step beyond source reduction and reuse, composting and recycling are an important part of overall waste management. It takes efforts on behalf of state legislators, sustainably minded businesses and other advocates, however, to make significant, path-paving changes in infrastructure development that will bring composting and recycling in this country to the next level.