Stop plastic straw waste

By Luke Metzger
Executive Director

Last night, Environment Texas intern and UT student Maggie Okhuysen testifed before Austin's Zero Waste Advisory Commission asking the city to take action to reduce plastic straw waste. Here's her testimony:

Good evening Chair and Commissioners:

My name is Maggie Okhuysen. I am a freshman Government major at UT as well as an Intern with the nonprofit, Environment Texas. Today I am asking that the Zero Waste Advisory Commission to take action to reduce single use plastic straw waste in Austin.

Nothing we use for 10 minutes should pollute our environment for hundreds of years.

We have a waste problem. We need to fundamentally change the way we think about and use consumer goods and shift away from the convenience of “use once and throw away,” especially when it comes to plastic which has devastating impacts on the natural world. Plastic also poses a threat to our public health with chemical additives in plastic such as BPA and phthalates which are endocrine disrupters. We need to recycle and reuse the plastics we do consume, but more importantly we need to reduce the amount of plastic that we consume in our daily lives in the first place.

It’s not enough for an individual to reduce their personal use, though that is important—we need a cultural shift away from single use plastics and the way that we can push that shift to happen is through policy. This is a big task, but we can start with: plastic bags, plastic straws and plastic foam. These products are also sometimes referred to as “gateway plastics” in understanding our larger plastic pollution problem.

If we can stop the use of these unnecessary, single use plastics it will not only have an immediate impact on our oceans and the rest of the natural world, it will also raise public awareness of the larger problem and lay the groundwork for future fights. Today, I specifically want to focus on reducing single use plastic straws.

The rate at which Americans are using plastic straws is extremely high. It is estimated that every person uses 1.5 straws a day. This means we use enough plastic straws to wrap around the world’s circumference 2.5 times a day!  At that rate, the City of Austin alone uses 1,421,835 straws every single day. Single use plastic straws are not recyclable, and they do not decompose. This means they are ending up in landfills, storm drains, oceans, or in our water and food systems as micro plastics which increase exposure to endocrine disrupters.

Other cities have passes ordinances to reduce or end plastic straw use. For example, Seattle recently passes a ban on straws which applies to all businesses that sell food or drinks. The city of San Louis Obispo passes a “straws upon request” ordinance requiring restaurants to ask customers if they want a straw before automatically providing one. Austenite’s are already familiar with a “request only” ordinance, since during the drought water cups where only provided upon request.

I am asking the Zero Waste Advisory Commission to recommend to the City Council that they pass an ordinance that require restaurants, fast food chains and bars to have “request only” straw policies. This means that they do not default to providing straws, but simply require consumers to ask for a straw if they want one.