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An estimated total of 500 million plastic straws are thrown away every day.

WasteNot: Why single-use plastics (like straws) suck

Lets pretend that I was granted some wishes. After world peace, providing healthcare, adequate housing, food and education for all citizens, I would then wave my magic wand for the disappearance of single-use consumer disposables. *POOF* and they would be gone!

Until the current economy shifts, thoughtful consumers can influence change by choosing to refuse to use single-use disposables in favor of durable, reusable items. Ultimately, a transformation needs to take place away from the current way that “stuff” is produced, beginning at the top (manufacturing) and cascading down to consumers and finally disposal.

In the meantime, the city of Ashland and the Conservation Commission are rolling out a pilot volunteer “Straws on Demand” program where participating businesses cease to automatically provide plastic straws with drinks. If the customer requests a straw, they will get a paper one instead.

Before I share the details of the Straws On Demand Pilot Program, you may be wondering, WHAT? Plastic Straws? First it was Styrofoam, then it was banning plastic bags and now plastic straws are under attack?

According to the National Park Service “The Be Straw Free Campaign, Americans use 500 million plastic drinking straws every day. This is enough to fill 125 school buses with straws daily. However, when given a choice to take a straw, 50 -80 percent of people will decline the offer. Numerous cities, including Seattle, Fort Meyers, Davis, Malibu and San Luis Obispo, have already banned plastic straws in restaurants.

The deleterious impacts on our environment, health and oceans from plastics continues to grow. I am sickened by images of the plastic floating islands, straws stuck in the noses of turtles, plastics collecting in the bellies of whales, to give just a few examples. And let us not forget about the littering accumulations of discarded plastics pretty much everywhere. For more info, go to www.last-straw.org.

Ashland’s pilot “Straws on Demand” program begins on Monday, May 14, at participating local restaurants and coffee shops, with Southern Oregon University and the Ashland Food Co-op considering participating.

The pilot will be evaluated and possibly expanded and continued depending on feedback.

A customer may get a paper straw by asking for one. Some businesses striving to be “green” switched from plastic straws made from petroleum to so called “compostable” plant based straws. Here are some realities of “compostable” straws:

1. Southern Oregon offers one option for “compostable” straws. It’s the same place for all straws. That place is the landfill.

2. These straws are more costly and offer a “green wash” feel that’s not real.

3. Every straw tossed into mixed recycling (commingle) contaminates the rest of the recyclables.

4. If you are curious about the “compostability” of these straws, conduct an experiment. Bring a “compostable” straw home and put it in your compost. If you don’t have a compost pour hot water on it or set it in the sun. See for yourself what it does over time.

Better yet, take one traditional petroleum plastic straw, one compostable and one paper one and observe what happens over time. The paper one will break down readily as long as it’s not lined in plastic.

As consumers we can ask for what we want and for what we don’t want. There’s no need to wait for a “program.” For years I have been ordering “no straw” with my margarita. When placing an order you can always request “no straw” (or no lid, or no bag). When in a Spanish-speaking location, “sin popote” (“without straw”) will suffice.

If you carry your own that’s another way to avoid this unwanted waste. Some businesses already do this.

Starting May 14, look for small table signs on the counter that signal a participating business in the “Straw on Demand” pilot. If you’d like the business you frequent to consider participating, please let them know to contact Stu Green, climate and energy analyst for the city of Ashland via email at stu.green@ashland.or.us or call 541-552-2085 for more information

Every day really and truly is Earth Day. Where on earth would we rather be?

— Risa Buck has served on the Ashland Conservation Commission and in waste prevention education for more than a dozen years. You may reach her through betling@dailytidings.com. Find past WasteNot columns online at bit.ly/rbwastenot.

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