Are plastic straws the next single-use item to go in the Twin Cities?

As environmental activists move to eliminate single-use plastic items from everyday use, the plastic drinking straw is next up on the list of things some Twin Cities businesses are hoping to leave behind.

At First Avenue in Minneapolis, bar customers can request a straw but drinks are no longer automatically served with a straw, a move many welcome as an important first step toward eliminating their use completely. 

Other restaurants in the Twin Cities, like HopCat, use compostable straws as well as compostable to go boxes that are designed to break down quickly and turn into soil within months of arriving at a commercial composting facility.  

An environmental initiative in Minneapolis began in 2015 with a program called Green to Go. The initiative’s goal was to bring attention to environmentally acceptable packaging. Plastic straws, however, are not included in the ordinance because they aren’t considered packaging—leading businesses to make their own rules regarding the items.

As a result, private businesses in Minnesota are leading the charge against plastic products that often sit in landfills or injure wildlife if not properly recycled. Several other states and even entire countries around the world are also stepping up to combat what they see as a growing threat to the environment.

The United Nations and independent studies show that eight million tons of plastic waste ends up in the oceans every year. The trend to eliminate single-use plastic items started with plastic bags. Last fall, California became the first state to ban plastic bags. Countries including Kenya, China, Bangladesh, Rwanda, Macedonia and France have also banned plastic bags. France plans to ban plastic plates and utensils beginning in 2020. 

The trend has continued with straws. Several cities in California have banned or limited the use of plastic straws. Other cities that have been working to eliminate single-use plastic straw pollution include Miami Beach and Fort Myers, Fla. Seattle’s “Strawless in Seattle” campaign will begin in July. British Prime Minister, Theresa May, is working to outlaw the sale of plastic straws. 

A number of campaigns have been launched to teach people about the effects single-use plastic straws can have on the environment, the oceans and our health. According to the National Park Service (NPS), Americans use 500 million straws every day. 

“To understand just how many straws 500 million really is, this would fill over 125 school buses with straws everyday,” an article from the NPS said. “That’s 46,400 school buses every year!” 

The U.S. uses enough straws to wrap around the Earth’s circumference 2.5 times a day, the Last Plastic Straw organization wrote on their website. 

Plastic straws can also cause harm to, and even kill, a variety of marine life, the campaigns say. A viral video of a sea turtle getting a straw removed from its nostril is just one example of how detrimental straws can be to sea creatures. 

Another organization working to eliminate plastic waste has estimated that 71 percent of seabirds and 30 percent of turtles have been found with plastic in their stomachs. The mortality rate for marine life that ingests plastic is 50 percent. 

Environmental activists are asking restaurants to provide straws upon request. Not every beverage or cocktail requires a straw. Margaritas, for example, are served with salt on the rim—they’re meant to be sipped. Every time someone asks for a refill, do they need a new straw? 

Eco-friendly solutions can also replace plastic straws. Restaurants could adopt options like glass, paper or compostable straws. 

Activists emphasized that they aren’t out to ban straws completely, recognizing that some people with physical disabilities require straws to drink their beverage. However, they’re encouraging everyone to consider the alternative options.