Malibu already bans the commercial use of plastic shopping bags and polystyrene food containers. A new city ordinance takes effect in June that adds plastic straws, stirrers and cutlery to the list.
“I think this was driven by the fact that these plastic items don't biodegrade,” said Malibu Mayor Rick Mullen. “They may break down in size, but the actual plastic stays in the ecosystem and people are getting conscious about that all over the world.”
Most restaurant owners support the ban, Mayor Mullen said, although some worry it will drive up their cost of doing business.
“Most people here in Malibu are not fanatical environmentalists by any stretch of the imagination,” but it’s part of the city’s mission to “preserve the natural beauty and take care of the environment as much as possible,” Mullen said. “We realize that the little things we do have a big effect on the natural world.”
Assemblyman Ian Calderon (D-Whittier), majority leader of the California legislature, has introduced a bill that would require all restaurants in the state that serve food eaten on site to provide plastic straws only when requested by the customer.
Calderon insists his bill, AB-1884, is not a ban on plastic straws. “It is a small step towards curbing our reliance on these convenience products, which will hopefully contribute to a change in consumer attitudes and usage,” he said in a statement.
The Industry Pushback: Plastic Isn’t the Problem
The plastics industry acknowledges that waste management and marine debris are serious issues that require a real and lasting solution. But it would like to see the focus be on proper disposal and greater recycling, rather than banning certain products.
“People should have the option to use products that fit their lifestyle, but it’s everyone’s responsibility to make sure these items are disposed of in a way that maximizes their value and ensures that they don’t end up where they shouldn’t,” said Ashley Stoney, director of communications for the Plastics Industry Association, in an email.
Steve Russell, vice president of plastics for the American Chemistry Council, said the industry is working on new technologies that will allow “every piece of post-use plastics” to be recycled or remade into raw materials for new products.
“We should all do our part to reduce waste by using reusable items when we can and declining straws or utensils when we don’t need them,” Russell said in a statement. “We should also keep in mind that protecting our health and hygiene is an important reason products such as straws and carryout utensils are designed to be used just once. These items often are made with plastics, because being both strong and lightweight; plastics often do a better job, with lower environmental impacts, than alternatives.”
Strawless in Seattle
This summer, Seattle will ban the commercial use of plastic straws, plastic stir sticks and plastic utensils. Starting July 1, any business that serves food or beverages will need to provide compostable alternatives.
“It's great to have things diverted from garbage into the compost stream, which is what we're pushing with this,” said Becca Fong with Seattle Public Utilities. “It’s also a really good way to raise consumer awareness, to get people to think about prevention: Do they really need that straw or all of those utensils if they’re getting food to go and taking it home to eat?”