Stormwater Magazine

Editor’s Comments: Breaking the Plastic Habit

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There’s a designated day, week, or month for just about everything you can imagine, and a few things you’ve probably never thought of, spurred by creative marketers everywhere. Some are serious, some are silly, and all of them promote awareness of a product, industry, company, profession, or cause. We have National Save for Retirement Week (the third full week of October), Spinach and Squash Month (November), Return Borrowed Books Week (March 4–10 this year), National Cheer Up the Lonely Day (July 11), National Zoo Keeper Week (third week in July), Responsible Dog Ownership Day (third Saturday in September), National Start Seeing Monarchs Day (first Saturday in May, and that’s butterflies, not royalty), International Surfing Day (June 20), National Garage Sale Day (second Saturday in August), and National Leave the Office Early Day (June 2, unless it falls on a weekend, in which case it’s the closest working day).

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Now there’s a new one: the fourth Friday in February shall henceforth be National Skip the Straw Day. Started by a group called The Coral Keepers, it’s intended to make people aware of how much plastic—especially single-use plastic items like drinking straws—ends up in the waterways and ultimately in the oceans. You’ve probably heard some of the statistics: Americans use (and discard) 500 million straws a day. Half the plastic items produced worldwide—some 150 million tons a year—are made to be used only once. In the near future, the pieces of plastic in the ocean are expected to outnumber and outweigh the fish.

The paper straw was invented in 1888, and now it seems we can’t live without them. For those who still want or need to use drinking straws, Skip the Straw Day’s founders suggest returning to the original paper ones, which are at least biodegradable, or perhaps bamboo straws, which are both reusable and biodegradable, or permanent ones made of glass or stainless steel that you can carry around and use indefinitely. But as with all the other designated days and weeks and months, this one is part of a larger conversation, and it’s not just about straws. Many cities, states, and countries have already banned single-use plastic bags, and now others (Seattle, Glasgow) are placing full or partial bans on straws as well. The European Union wants to ban all single-use plastic items in all of its member countries by 2030. The economic implications of that—for manufacturers, restaurants, and retailers—would be far-reaching.

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I’ve mentioned the straw issue in a couple of blogs on the Stormwater website (Drawing the Short Straw & The Very Last Straw), and several of you have joined in the conversation online. Some don’t think a ban is the answer, or argue that such things shouldn’t be regulated. Some of you favor fees for plastic products, such as those already charged for bags in some areas, or refundable deposits like those on recyclable cans and bottles.

There seems to be general approval, though, of public education and awareness campaigns like this one. Looking at your own experience with other types of stormwater education, and at other campaigns you’ve been involved with or exposed to—“No dumping to the storm drain,” “Reduce, reuse, recycle,” and so on—how effective do you think this effort is likely to be? What else would you suggest?

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