California’s straw law draws attention

Plastic pollution in the ocean.(Photo: Rich Carey, via Shutterstock)

When former Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law in September curbing the distribution of plastic straws in dine-in restaurants, it received wide – and largely favorable — attention.

But to some, there was a surprise: The new law continues to allow fast-food restaurants to use plastic straws. Many people believe that the state should make all eateries use biodegradable straws, especially fast-food restaurants, which are the largest consumers of plastic straws. The new California law bars the use of plastic straws, unless the customer asks for it.

California’s law, AB 1884 by Assemblymember Ian Calderon, D-Whittier, is the first of its kind in the country and it has drawn attention from other states.

Legislation in the state of Washington, proposed by Friends of the Earth and the National Federation of Women’s Institutes, calls for eliminating most single-use plastic by 2024. Included in that bill are utensils, straws, take-out packing and coffee cups. The proposal would exclude needed plastics such as ones used for safety and health care.

A YouGov poll showed that about 89% people across the country support the cut back of plastic waste and pollution in the next 25 years.

But some believe more research is needed before states completely ban plastic straws.

Republican state Sen. Travis Hutson of Florida has crafted a bill to prohibit the ban on plastic straws until 2024.

Hutson called for research to identify alternatives to everyday plastics before they are banned. He approves of people wanting to reduce plastic, but said he is “just not a fan of government on the state or local level telling a business what to do.”

Olivia Babis, a Democratic candidate for the Florida senate, says Hutson’s bill is a good idea. Babis was born with no arms and heavily relies on plastic straws to drink. She does recognize the need to cut down on plastic but has said, “At least it’s [Hutsons bill] recognizing and studying what the implications are for the disabled community. Something no city has done.”

“We don’t need a study, we need action.” – Holly Parker-Curry

But others believe that blocking the ban on plastic straws for research purposes is a bad idea.

The Surfrider Foundation, a nonprofit California group that seeks protections for oceans, beaches and marine life, urges support for the ban.

“If you stop and clean a beach for five minutes, you’ll have a bag full of straws. The impact is already very clear and very established,” she said. “We don’t need a study, we need action,” said Surfrider’s Holly Parker-Curry,

“Around 40 billion plastic utensils are used each year. Because there is such a low rate of these utensils being reused or recycled most of them end up in oceans and beaches,” she added.

Banning the use of plastic straws also has drawn international attention.

Bakeys, founded by Narayana Peesapaty, is a bakery in Hyderabad, India. Bakeys is making substitutes for plastic cutlrey.

The bakery makes spoons, forks, and chopsticks that are fully edible and have a shelf life of two years. The utensils are made of only three ingredients — rice, wheat, and sorghum. Because of their natural ingredients, the spoons are able to fully decompose within 10 days or they can be eaten by animals, both of which are safe.

Seventy-six million paper coffee cups, which have a plastic lining, are thrown away each year in the UK alone.

The bakery has succeeded in selling 1.5 million spoons every year in India and was able to start selling out of country with the help of a kickstarter campaign in 2016. Around 40 billion plastic utensils are used each year. Because there is such a low rate of these utensils being reused or recycled, most of them end up in oceans and beaches. If edible utensils become a more popular product it will greatly help the environment, advocates say.

In southern California, a new company called TwentyFifty Fork also is working on creating biodegradable utensils. The founder is Zhicong “Zack” Kong, a 2017 bioengineering graduate from UC San Diego. He and fellow UCSD grad Albert Liu, hope to raise $30,000 this summer  to open a manufacturing plant in Oceanside. Unlike Bakeys’ utensils, which are meant to be eaten, TwentyFifty Fork utensils are meant to be disposed by putting them in soil where they will decompose within 30 days. The utensils are edible, but the company believes soil placement is a better way to go, and urges “Compost your fork!”

The company’s name, TwentyFifty, is derived from the year when some scientists predict plastic will overtake fish in the world’s oceans.

Meanwhile, Kaffeeform, a company based in the UK, is making reusable coffee mugs and cups made out of used coffee grounds that are collected from local coffee shops and caterers. As well as coffee grounds, the cups also are made with starch, wood, waxes, oils, natural resins, cellulose, and biopolymers. This cup is fully biodegradable and reusable. One study noted that 76 million paper coffee cups with plastic linings are thrown away each year in the UK alone.

Plastic was invented in the early 19th century, but did not become popular until the 1950s.

Since then, some 9.2 billions tons of plastic have been produced, according to reporting by the National Geographic.  Of this amount, about 6.9 billion tons have turned into waste and 6.3 billion tons have failed to be recycled. It is unclear how long it takes plastic bottles to decompose, although there have been estimates of up to 450 years, or even longer. Plastic bags can take 10 years to 1,000 years to fully decompose.

Surprisingly, despite widespread attention to the environmental perils of plastic, the production of plastic in the U.S. is growing. In the 1950s, 2.3 million tons of plastic were produced. This number then grew in 1993 to 162 million, then in 2015 rose to 448 million tons.

As the usage of plastic continues, so does the number of animals harmed, scientists say.

Plastic was found in less than 5% of sea birds in the 1960s. This number then rose to 80% in 2010. Scientists believe that 99% of all seabirds will have plastic in their systems  by 2050 if no action is taken to clean up the ocean.

An estimated 100,000 marine creatures and 1 million seabirds die every year due to plastic in the ocean. The seabirds eat plastic thinking it’s food. This causes the plastic to tear their organs killing the bird or the birds eat so much plastic that it weighs them down causing them to have trouble flying. This causes health issues eventually leading to the birds death.

Other sea creatures eat plastic, too.

In March, a whale that washed up at Porto Cervo on Sardinia had 48 pounds of plastic in its stomach.

Plastic pollution “Every country in the world has the duty to apply the policies to fight it: not today, yesterday,” said Italy’s environmental minister, Sergio Costa.

“Is there still someone who says that these are not important problems?”

Editor’s Note: Monet Muscat is a Capitol Weekly intern from the Met Sacramento High School.

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