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Not drawing straws

Half a billion. That’s a really big number. It also happens to be the number of plastic drinking straws we wasteful Americans use — and throw away — every single day.

If that makes you say, “That’s nuts,” you’re not alone. Fortunately, there are simple alternatives to the ubiquitous plastic straw. Several Ashland businesses, along with Southern Oregon University, have taken steps to eliminate them.

Following the “Straws on Demand” program developed by the city of Ashland’s Conservation Commission, customers at participating establishments won’t be offered a straw at all. If they demand one anyway, they’ll get a paper straw — remember the ones you got with your carton of milk in the grade-school cafeteria?

This alone won’t make the difference in the fight against climate change, or affect the solid waste stream much at all. But it will raise people’s awareness of how many seemingly inconsequential decisions we make without thinking about them — accepting plastic bags from retailers, using a plastic straw and then tossing it out, not bothering to return bottles or recycle paper, plastic and glass.

So far, participants in Straws on Demand include Simple Cafe, Standing Stone and the Ashland Food Co-op, among others. The real target, though, is not retailers but consumers.

When we all stop to think before accepting a straw with our latte, the campaign will have done its work.

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