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Drawing the line on straws

If you stick a straw in your soda or margarita, you might want to rethink that.

Americans use some 500 million straws a day, enough to fill 125 school buses. These end up in our landfills and oceans, where they take 200 years to degrade — and even when they do, they release all kinds of petrochemicals.

Let’s face it: straws suck! And that’s why Ashland restaurants, the Food Co-op and Southern Oregon University have flocked to the new “Straws on Demand” program created by the city’s Conservation Commission.

The new system is simple: you don’t automatically grab or get a straw with your drink. Certainly not a plastic one. You have to ask for it — and if you do, you get an old fashioned paper straw, which — being a wood product — reverts to nature fairly soon.

“This is a lot like our ban on plastic shopping bags (in 2014). It’s a very small thing and in the grand scheme, might not have such an enormous impact, but it does start making people more aware of their impact on the environment globally,” says Roxane Beigel-Coryell, Sustainability and Recycling Coordinator at SOU’s Sustainability Council.

The clampdown on single-use plastic hopped to social media where commenters here endorse the idea of restaurants and bars jumping on the bandwagon. So far, they include Simple Cafe and Standing Stone — two big leaders in the movement — and Pie & Vine, Falafel Republic, Agave, Louie’s, Mix, Flip and Remix.

At the Co-op deli, there are no straws sitting out on the counter anymore. You have to ask for them and, if you do, you get a paper straw wrapped in paper. For 75 cents, you can buy your permanent stainless steel straw for you to carry around. You can buy a long brush to clean it out, too. Glass straws are also for sale.

“Steel and glass are sturdy and very eco-friendly,” says Ginelle Wendling, assistant manager of the deli. “I’ve had the glass (one) for 10 years. People are very receptive to the new ways.”

Straws may seem like minor items to turn climate change around, but so did plastic shopping bags. However, that shift has made a significant difference in the recycling stream, says Beigel-Coryell.

Straws are a habit, and “studies show 50 to 80 percent of people decline straws if you ask them to make the choice,” she says.

Plastic bags were square one and straws are square two in the battle. Beyond that might be styrofoam cups or coffee lids, which push people to think about carrying their own stainless steel, insulated coffee mugs, but that’s a big step in the future — and one enshrouded with challenges. Why? Because people like these voluntary pilot programs but are less fond of governments compelling change through regulation, says Stu Green, city Climate and Energy Analyst.

The Co-op years ago banned water in single-use plastic bottles, but the city hasn’t backed that up with regulations.

Some restaurants, such as Simple Cafe by the hardware store on A Street, are taking the initiative, offering people meals on hard plates and cups that can be brought back, put in the dishwasher, and traded for new, clean ones. Presto! Zero waste.

Motivated by public revulsion with plastic in oceans, many cities — Seattle, Davis, Malibu, San Luis Obispo, Fort Myers, Fla. — have banned plastic straws entirely.

For further information, Green recommends:

GHG (Greehhouse Gas) inventory, 2015: www.ashland.or.us/files/Ashland_GHG_Inventory_Report.pdf

Climate and Energy Action Plan, 2017: www.ashland.or.us/climateplan

Vancouver, B.C., ban on plastic straws, foam cups, and containers: www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/vancouver-plastic-straw-ban-foam-cups-1.4666586

How to live without plastic: trashisfortossers.com, zerowastehome.com.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Andy Atkinson / Daily TidingsStaws on demand and stainless steel straws available at the food co-op.
Andy Atkinson / Daily TidingsFood co-op deli assistant manager Jinelle Wendling holds a display of stainless steel straws.