The fight against the plastic straw goes to Oceanside

The fight against the plastic straw goes to Oceanside
Oceanside councilmember Esther Sanchez, second from left, is joined by teacher Janis Jones, who organized the student speakers, and high schoolers Ashmeen Mahal, far left, and Kayla Reese. Photo by James Wang

OCEANSIDE — Is it time to “stop sucking,” as the trending hashtag suggests? A groundswell of support for limiting the use of throwaway plastic straws is impacting legislation — as well as business and consumer behavior — from the global to the local stage.

Environmentalists claim that by 2050, there will be more plastic by weight in the ocean than fish. While plastic straws are just one part of the larger plastics problem facing oceans, organizations fighting to curtail their use say the straws rarely get recycled.

Plus, the lightweight straws easily find their way onto the ocean’s surface, where they can be mistaken for food. When marine animals consume plastic, they can suffer from digestive blockages, starvation and suffocation that can prove fatal — not to mention the potentially harmful effects that plastic may pass up the food chain, including to humans.

Taylor Cannizzaro, the chair of San Diego Surfrider’s Rise Above Plastics Committee, said, “The plastic straw is the gateway plastic. It’s simple. People can wrap their heads around not using one and change their behavior.”

Other than people with certain disabilities or illnesses who need straws to drink liquids, most people can make do without them or can adopt more eco-friendly alternatives, like reusable stainless steel or paper.

Taylor Cannizzaro speaks to a group during a discussion following a showing of the film, “Straws Suck.” Photo by James Wang

If passed into state law, AB 1884 would require servers at sit-down restaurants to refrain from providing plastic straws unless customers specifically request them.

At the Oceanside council’s June 6 meeting, Connor Berryhill, then a fifth-grader, used a “Star Wars” analogy to make his environmental point, stating, “Plastic is like the Death Star. We don’t even need a super laser beam to blow up the planet. We can do it with plastic.”

Teacher Janis Jones, who helped to organize the student speakers, is also asking restaurants to voluntarily adopt a straws-by-request policy. Jones and other volunteers have contacted 60 Oceanside restaurants, some of which are in the process of implementing the policy and/or have switched to paper straws.

Jones thinks that AB 1884 is a good start that doesn’t go far enough. She wants the Oceanside council to ultimately adopt a more stringent citywide ordinance that would extend to bars and drive-through restaurants, for example.

Opponents to straws on request feel it’s government overreach and that market forces should be allowed to prevail without regulation. Starbucks, for instance, decided to discontinue use of plastic straws at its stores by 2020. While the replacement lids will also be plastic, they will be recyclable.

Encinitas, Solana Beach, Del Mar, Imperial Beach and San Diego are all considering some type of straws-by-request-only ordinance.

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