Commentary: Is this the last straw?

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Edmonds City Councilmember Dave Teitzel

Single-use plastic products — such as straws, stirrers and utensils — have become virtually ubiquitous in the food service industry worldwide and are contributing to the ever-growing plastic pollution crisis in our marine environment.

In fact, experts predict the level of marine plastic pollution to double by 2025 if current trends continue, and small plastic items such as straws and cutlery are in the top 10 plastic items polluting our oceans and easily find their way into salt water bodies when left on the beach or are washed into storm drains.

It has been scientifically demonstrated that plastics in the marine environment break down over time into smaller particles that are ingested by fish, birds and marine mammals, often killing them.  Cities, states and even entire countries bordering saltwater bodies have recognized this crisis and are taking action. To date, Vancouver, B.C., Seattle; New York, N.Y.; the California cities of Alameda, Carmel, San Luis Obispo, Davis, Malibu, Manhattan Beach, Oakland, Richmond and Berkeley; Monmouth Beach, N.J. and Miami Beach and Fort Myers, Fla. have all banned plastic straws, stirrers and cutlery. Hawaii and California are now considering statewide legislation banning these items, and Scotland, England and Taiwan have announced bans to take effect as early as next year.

Edmonds has been a leader in working to protect our local environment and was the first city in Washington to ban plastic shopping bags. On May 22, the Edmonds City Council again stepped forward and passed a resolution for a phased ban of single-use plastic items (we are the second city in the state and the first city in Snohomish County to take this action).

By the end of 2018, single-use plastic items including straws, stirrers and cutlery will no longer be provided on city-owned premises. Starting in 2019, these items will no longer be allowed at outdoor events in Edmonds such as Taste Edmonds, Edmonds Arts Festival, Summer Market, Classic Car Show. etc., and in early 2020 an ordinance will be introduced requiring the local food service industry to discontinue providing single-use plastic straws, stirrers and cutlery.

This phased approach is being implemented to provide substantial notice to the local food industry (e.g., restaurants, fast food providers, schools, hospitals, etc.) of the impending ban to allow them sufficient time to use up existing supplies of these items and to order compostable or reusable alternative products.  A number of major food service providers, including Taco Time, McDonald’s, PCC, Starbucks and others are already in the process of eliminating single-use plastic items and are replacing them with compostable alternatives (paper, wood, plant resin-based, etc.) now available in the market.

Additionally, the Edmonds ordinance will make provisions for individuals who need plastic straws due to physical challenges, such as hospital patients or elderly residents of retirement homes.

Before the full ban takes effect in 2020, what can you do? We encourage you to reduce or discontinue plastic straw, stirrer and cutlery usage by refusing them when they are offered to you by a local food service provider and encourage them to discontinue providing these items.  Patronize food service providers who are proactively moving away from single-use plastic items. And consider purchasing reusable straws now available made from products such as metal, wood or glass.

I’m proud to be a member of a city council and community strongly committed to protecting our local environment and look forward to more great progress on this front. If we work together, this may be the last straw!

— By Dave Teitzel
Edmonds City Council, Pos. #5

20 Replies to “Commentary: Is this the last straw?”

  1. Clever title!

    We have slipped into/ a throw-it-away culture. I’m old enough to remember when it was possible to fix things; now they are too complicated, or to small to fix, and anyway, there’s always a newer, better one, and even if you want to fix it, you can’t. And that makes money for the producers, no matter what the downside.

    In an earlier day, you took your mug with you to the pub, or kept it there, and people brought their own eating utensils with them when they traveled. I don’t think I’d want to go back that far, but I do lament the days when you had shoes re-soled, or your radio fixed, or could repair your lawn mower. Our cars and appliances are often better – but who can fix one these days? And notice how much faster some of them wear out?

    Times change, some things get better – but we need to think of ways to limit one-use products and promote a culture where re-use, recycling, and where possible repair, are encouraged. To a degree, it’s a matter of self-sufficiency, but the planet can’t take much more of the other.

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  2. Please, can the City Council focus on Edmonds?

    We have a right to make and/or use straws. Even bag bans are being overturned by courts in several states:
    https://www.texastribune.org/2018/06/22/texas-supreme-court-rules-bag-bans/

    We all agree that plastic in ocean is bad, but almost none of it comes from the US, and almost none of none of it is from straws. This is an intelligence test.
    https://www.dw.com/en/almost-all-plastic-in-the-ocean-comes-from-just-10-rivers/a-41581484

    ^^^What makes this really bad is that we pay Asian countries a lot of money to take our recycling and trash, but they often throw it away, so in a significant way our own recycling and refuse programs are at partly fault and should be re-evaluated. China is starting to refuse to take our trash too.
    https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2015/12/what-actually-happens-to-a-recycled-plastic-bottle/418326/

    Reason Magazine on straws:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kTrECOS4fzU#action=share

    Please, can the City Council focus on Edmonds?

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    1. Matthew: As I have heard many times in my life, two wrongs don’t make a right, so I have a hard time justifying that we can feel good about ignoring this because others are so much worse in comparison.

      It has to start somewhere, especially as you point out that plastics are getting ever harder to recycle, mostly thanks to China’s refusal to accept our waste streams (ostensibly because of contamination, but I think it is at least as much a pressure play).

      As to the questions about the Council focusing on Edmonds, isn’t that exactly who this proposal concerns? The Council established a goal to move Edmonds to being a zero-waste city about two years ago, and this is one step in that direction. Compostable straws don’t go to the third world for recycling; personal silicone straws just get washed and reused.

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      1. Not using straws at all saves that waste. I don’t think paper straws are any better for the environment. I also don’t think the Edmonds City Council knows enough about these topics, or that they have the authority. People are laughing at us:
        https://youtu.be/AM0tWkfAR2Q
        “0.02%” of the plastic in the ocean is straws, Less than 1% of that plastic is from the US. I’d argue that misguided eco bans ruin the credibility of legitimate environmental agendas.

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  3. The single greatest plastic waste problem is water bottles. Where in the world did straws and cutlery come from? Can we PLEASE stop this nonsense and quit following other cities down this path? This is getting embarrassing. How many straws has anyone seen in the trash compared to water bottles? We look and sound like complete idiots.

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    1. You raise very good points! But the problem is complex: we have a ready alternative to plastic straws, but we do not have one for plastic bottles that come with every known beverage. Getting rid of the straws is a small step, but it is a step. Now we need to think of alternative containers for beverages, or perhaps develop containers which can biodegrade. The bottle crisis needs to be dealt with at the point of origin, not the end point of the container.

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  4. The idea that you’re going to ban straws and save the world is ridiculous.
    Plastic pollution in the ocean is a real problem, but only about 1 percent of it comes from the U.S. Of that 1 percent, only a tiny fraction comes from plastic straws. A specialty of the environmental movement: Spend your money on feel-good policies that make no real difference.”
    This for the Edmonds City Council is an anthem of self-serving composition and celebration.

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    1. I don’t think anyone believes that banning straws is going to save the world. It’s a very small step – but it is a step, like getting rid of plastic bags. In both cases we had readily available substitutes, so we could take the step, no matter how small, and perhaps largely symbolic. But little steps and symbols are important. Now we need to develop alternatives to all the other single-use and/or un-recyclable products we use.

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  5. I can only hope that when the tents and campers show up in our sleepy little town the law will crack down on that just like the straws.

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  6. Thank you Council Member Teitzel for your leadership on this issue and thank you to the Council for passing it. We all need to reduce or eliminate our dependence on single use plastic – with this legislation and the previous ban on plastic bags the goal is to increase awareness and start decreasing the plastic pollution in our waters and landfills. Thank you too for using an inclusive and reasoned process for developing and passing this legislation.

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  7. The Pacific Ocean has a floating, swirling plastic garbage patch (gyre) the size of Texas. It is no consolation at all to say “That’s not MY plastic bag/straw/bottle/etc. floating around in the ocean.”
    Plastic does not disappear; it degrades into smaller and smaller pieces that are now showing up in the digestive tracts of marine creatures.

    When issues are enormous and overwhelming, we can look for comprehensive federal legislation to solve a problem (unlikely), we can ignore the problem (unhelpful), or we can get on with it and act locally. Thank you, Council Member Teitzel, for increasing awareness of the plastic garbage issue, and proposing a step to correct it.

    I don’t have a constitutional right to a plastic straw, and neither do you.

    Susan Morrow

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  8. I agree that water bottles offer a much better opportunity for egregious environmental offense than meager plastic straws, and I have personally disliked this very popular consumer-convenience item from its inception. However, if the Council had made the move to ban these single-use items right off the bat, the response would be a tsunami of outcry compared to the mild feedback here.

    So, how does one eat an elephant? The adage states that one bite at a time provides the method. People laugh at many things… No one would argue today that the US purchase of Alaska was folly, but in 1867 it was widely described as a terrible waste of resources in exchange for a frozen wasteland.

    Taking this measured, albeit small, step to move away from single-use plastics gets us closer to the goal of zero waste without a great deal of pain. It will likely provide some valuable lessons on the best way to approach larger changes, without the risk of biting off more than can be chewed.

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  9. I agree with Maggie, Susan and Jim, as well as the city council of Edmonds. We need leadership to accomplish this, and it won’t be accomplished with one piece of legislation. If at first we don’t succeed, we have to try, try and try again. That’s been my motto in life and I have been quite successful with it. However, I meet an awful lot of people who just refuse to recycle anything. Many of them are called tenants. Even though recycling procedures are spelled out clearly in the rental agreements, some of them don’t do it. They have this attitude of “Make me!” Usually, it’s the uneducated types who have that reaction. I also agree that straws are a minor problem compared to plastic bottles etc. The Chinese are refusing our recyclables because the have found, among other items, soiled baby diapers mixed in. That doesn’t surprise me! And I don’t blame the Chinese one bit. We should be grateful that they buy our recyclables; who else will? I remember when there was no plastic, somebody gave a little toy train made of a material called BAKELITE. Milk came in heavy glass bottles, all recyclable. Truly the good old days! And the air was also clean and the water in rivers and lakes not polluted…. What a shameful way to treat this bountiful planet!

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  10. I’m sort of floored that people think there isn’t a Constitutional Right to straws. It’s getting embarrassing to live here.

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  11. Don’t we have an official city tree board?
    Isn’t the primary mission of this board to protect the remaining tree’s in our city?
    Isn’t this silly ban and the plastic bag ban forcing the use of tree’s to supply the replacement products?

    I remember a day when we were told we had to stop using paper/bio-degradable products because we were dangerously close to depleting our lumber supply.

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    1. I also remember the pseudo environmental push to adopt plastic bags. Ed, what you’re touching upon is, what does the City Council actually know about protecting the environment?

      I grew up in Maine, with many friends in the timber industry; Trees are a renewable resource. There are more trees now than there were 100 years ago. Computers increased the demand for wood pulp, thus the supply of trees to meet that demand. The Lorax is horrible-backwards story.

      Out of everybody in our local public offices, the Port Commissioners have been the best stewards of the environment. However, they were white men, so there was a campaign against them under the auspice that they weren’t protecting and preserving the marsh. #WalkAway

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  12. Show of hands – how many Edmonds residents throw plastic straws in the Puget Sound or the Pacific Ocean? None? That’s what I thought. Let’s stop focusing on Green trivia, and instead concentrate on reducing wasteful government spending.

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    1. As others have said, “This is a first step”, which is going to be like trying to fill in the Grand Canyon with a teaspoon. Oh well, it makes them feel good about themselves even if the results are infinitesimal, which is what is important.

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  13. Why can’t we have a choice in straws? We used to with shopping bags. Everyone remembers “Paper or plastic today?”

    I would like to be the one to make a decision regarding what kind of straw I use. Coffee shops and restaurants could give their customers the option.

    Isn’t choice what America is all about?

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  14. This is a good watch for those wondering about plastics, and the futility of banning things like straws.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dxsJVaL5vLc

    Really the government is doing a poor job of being a steward of the environment. The City Council is also [sort of] ruining the credibility of the government by banning straws at a time when tangible measures need to be taken. I read a bit about how hikers attempting to summit Everest are made to pay a deposit on all of the wrappers and containers they bring to the top so that they are encouraged to bring their waste back down. In Maine, where I grew up, there is a redemption system on cans and bottles, and it works. Redemption schemes are one means, but cleanup costs for plastics should be determined, then apportioned to the use of plastics. Centrally planned recycling schemes, for example, obfuscate the price-model needed to make this work and we should end City Recycling in favor or a redemption system. We send a lot of our plastic to China due to government schemes, China is starting to refuse it and will send their trash to Africa as they try to “recycle” too. Government schemes aren’t working, and aren’t properly encouraging conservation and reuse because the costs of cleanup isn’t properly monetized and can be exported to places that haven’t caught on. Ban straws?

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