Anti-Straw Movement: Not a Ban


Photo by Natalie Gallegos

Natalie Gallegos, Staff Editor

In 2015, Texas Graduate Christine Figgener was out tagging sea turtles for research when she discovered the horrifying cause behind an injured turtle; a 4-inch straw stuck in its nose. Figgener captured the moment on her phone as a crowd of fellow marine biologists came over to help pull the straw out of the suffering turtle’s nostril. After the video was released, it caught social media attention and soon went viral. People were emotionally motivated enough to start campaigns against the use of straws, which in turn led to a corresponding amount of controversy. The so-called “Straw Ban” yielded a wild outburst of protest in the media. Suddenly, it seemed as if people just couldn’t go another day without their straws. The reality of this “Straw Ban” is that it isn’t a ban at all.

On September of 2018, California Governor Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 1884. Starting January 1st of 2019, this law will take action and restaurants in California will no longer include plastic straws in their drinks, unless the customer requests it. Yes, this law only prohibits dropping a straw in a drink without a customers request. This means you can still have your straw…you simply have to ask for it. Any restaurant violating the law might be subject to the huge fee of $25.  This is obviously not a major hit for restaurants, even if they choose to violate the current law.

The initial goal of this movement was to reduce single-use plastic, one of the greatest, unnecessary sources of waste in our society. People against the anti-straw movement have stated not providing straws for people with disabilities is a form of discrimination. This is just a regulation, not a ban and if they want a straw, they will be given one.

So, this law may seem insignificant. What difference did it really make? Let’s take a look…

Along with the anti-straw movement, came a variety of alternatives for plastic straws. There are numerous reusable or biodegradable straws available for purchase online. If you don’t think business adjusts to customer demand, just look up straws on Amazon. Paper, steel, glass, and even bamboo straws are sold as alternatives to plastic. And, there aren’t just straws; there are everyday items such as utensils, like toothbrushes being offered with biodegradable or recyclable options. The industry is taking it’s a cue from voters and consumers. If we buy environmentally sound products, they work harder to meet those needs. Sea World is now eliminating single-use plastic straws and bags from all 12 theme parks. Entire regions are rejecting plastic. The city of Seattle has banned plastic straws and utensils.

This anti-straw movement is a challenge for lobbyists (groups employed by companies to convince the government to pass laws to benefit their employers ) to ignore because plastic waste is an undeniably big problem, and yet the plastic industry is enormous too. As you know, if an industry’s products do not sell, the company goes out of business. This leads to people losing their jobs. Political figures avoid passing environmental legislation as it most likely will cause industry workers to rage, big businesses to revoke funding and the end result may be a lost election.

The anti-straw movement has been criticized because it makes such a small impact on the larger world of plastic waste. However, powerful forces in the business and political world are exactly why small-scale legislation, such as this anti-straw law is pursued. Larger, more impacting laws are shot down every day. This law is as small as the straw it targets, yet most environmental scientists and activists say this legislation opens a door to much more significant legislation in the future. They also report that it is all they can do right now considering the opposing forces they face from business and government.

Of course, it isn’t just straws affecting our oceans and limiting their number won’t make the landmark strides needed to restore this valuable ecosystem. According to the World Economic Forum, there will be more plastic trash in the ocean than fish by 2050. Yet, activist Adrian Grenier and co-founder of The Lonely Whale Foundation remains hopeful stating, “It’s a gateway, a way to start.”

The straw movement is really just a tiny step to making an even bigger impact on our environment. At the very least, it makes us think about one unnecessary convenience we love, yet could absolutely go without. It’s also a small sacrifice to make when we are facing such large, looming environmental risks. The commonly called “straw ban” is only a straw restriction. We just need to request a straw, as opposed to having one popped in our drink without a second thought.

Considering current scientific reports, we should be willing to do far more without complaint.