Plastic Pollution
July 10 2018

Making Plastic Straws a Thing of the Past

by Trent Hodges

Yesterday, Starbucks made a big announcement that all 28,000 locations will phase out plastic straws by 2020. This announcement shows how the debate on single-use plastics and their impact on the environment is forcing large businesses and corporations to take initial steps in reducing their plastic footprint.

However, while the headline is great, there is reason to be cautiously optimistic. The plan does not comprehensively address single-use plastic as the straws will replaced with a plastic lid.  Also, the announcement does not further address the need to incentivize reusable cups for drinks and under the current plan, there is a potential loophole for bioplastic straws that have been proven to act just like any other plastic when in the marine or terrestrial environment. 

Surfrider chapters know that plastic straws are just the start of a conversation on how to reduce single-use plastics. The announcement holds some promise of corporations taking some accountability for their plastic footprint, but what it really highlights is the fact that grassroots activism and utilizing straws as a mascot for plastic pollution can lead to bigger discussion and changes that focus on the source reduction of plastic. Recognizing that plastic straws are just the tip of the iceberg that can open the conversation about single-use plastics, the Surfrider Foundation and its chapters are engaging in meaningful ways with the business community to not only limit the amount of straws that end up on our beaches, but to reach for greater plastic reduction goals that limit all single-use items.

Around 30 Surfrider chapters and student clubs from the West Coast, East Coast, and Great Lakes have tackled plastic straw pollution either through a program that gets restaurants to pledge to not give out plastic straws, all the way to campaigns that have resulted in actual policy outcomes. Below are just a few examples of how the Surfrider network is highlighting plastic straws as a gateway towards larger single-use plastic reduction goals.

  • The Portland chapter in Oregon created a unique program through their "Ditch the Straw PDX" campaign using some innovative ways of engaging businesses and individuals including Pub Crawls to help people practice adding “no straw, please” to their drink order and letter writing nights to encourage new businesses to join the movement. This effort has led the city of Portland to consider a plastic reduction strategy and will incorporate plastic straws as well as many other single-use items!
  • The San Francisco Chapter continues to advocate for a plastic straw ban in SF. On May 15, Supervisor Katy Tang introduced a plastic straw ordinance thanks to the tireless work of the chapter and their "Plastic Straws Suck" campaign! Like Portland, this work has led the city to not only consider a ban on plastic straws, but also update their plastic ordinance to include other items such as to-go tableware on request only.
  • The Charleston Chapter is asking local restaurants to #stopsucking and go strawless by participating in their Strawless Summer activation! This will be the second annual Strawless Summer for the chapter, in which they ask restaurants and bars as well as individuals to pledge to reduce their plastic straws for the summer.  Last year’s Strawless Summer initiative had more than 115 restaurants and bars take part, this year the goal is to double the amount taking the pledge, and encourage consumers to jump on board as well. 
  • The Ocean City Chapter in Maryland is off and running with their Strawless Summer campaign and their work has even convinced a convention center to only serve paper straws on request.
  • Eastern Long Island has had great success with their Strawless Summer program and have even included a digital map that shows which restaurants in the area have committed to skipping the plastic.
  • The San Diego Chapter has launched their "Plastic Straws Suck" campaign which encourages businesses to skip the plastic straw and have promised to continue the policy campaign until either  a “Straws Upon Request” ordinance or a “Plastic Straw Ban” are passed in the City of San Diego.  Due to their tireless work, the city of San Diego is now considering an ordinance that will not only ban plastic straws, but also ban harmful expanded polystyrene foam!  You can sign an action alert to support this ordinance here.
  • The Surfrider Pacific Rim chapter on the west coast of Canada has gotten all restaurants in the coastal towns of Tofino to Uculet on Vancouver Island to stop using straws or only give on request!  Through their work, the entire Pacific Rim is now straw-free!

All of this work is not only keeping plastic straws off our beaches and ocean, but starting a conversation about single-use plastics and how to eliminate other unneccessary items. Recognizing that straws are the start of a bigger movement, many chapters are highlighting the Ocean Friendly Restaurant program as the next step for businesses to truly show their commitment to practices that meaningfully reduce plastic. Over 200 restaurants have signed onto the program in 2018 and over 30 chapters across the country are going out into the community and getting restaurants to adhere to the Ocean Friendly Criteria.

The Surfrider Foundation has also created a toolkit for chapters and the general public to use in order to start a straw program or campaign in their own community and get to work on eliminating single-use plastic!