Could this be the last straw, and first step?

I posted a thread a few days ago about plastics in the Ocean. Some friends and I are planning a river cleanup around Earth Day. I came across this article and thought i would share it here. Each day in this country we use enough non recyclable, non biodegradable plastic straws to warp around the earth 2.5 times. Yes Each Day! They are in the top 10 of trash items found in the Ocean and on the beaches. I will request no straw from now on when I eat out.

Send that to your local politicians and see what response you get.

The problem is us. Thoughtlessly tossing away trash. I suspect those of us that enjoy the waterways and outdoors are more aware of the repercussions of trash, and likely to pick up other people’s trash. You are right Jim we all need to let or politicians know what we think is important. If they feel it is important that they stay in office then we need to let them know what they need to be spending their time doing.

The plastic industry is quick to point out the benefits of convenience and potential health benefits of disposable cups, utensils, and straws, and have a monetary interest they wish to protect. They say the consumer should be responsible with their use and disposal. All true, but that approach hasn’t worked very well. Has it? If we can’t effect individual responsibility, then I suspect it would be much better not to have styrofoam cups and plates, plastic utensils, bags, and straws.

Steven Hawking died today. What a great mind we have lost. Did you know he predicted “that human beings have less than 600 years left on the planet before population growth and energy depletion burn it to a cinder.” Now my mind isn’t as acute as his, but even my simple perception can see we have to make a change. Yes we are the ones that have to start paying the cost of change so our grandchildren will have a better life and world

I chose not to use straws most of the time, anyway, because my thirst is better quenched by drinking directly out of a glass or bottle than it is by drinking out of a straw.

What ever happened to the old school paper wax staws? Seems like a good time for them to make a comeback.

I never understood why anyone needed a straw to drink, unless they were bedridden or in neck traction. Plastic bags, unnecessary packaging and beverage bottles are an even bigger waste problem. There are countries which have rightly banned plastic shopping bags and others who have made manufacturers responsible to some extent for collecting and disposing properly of the waste their products entail.

I’ve been using fabric shopping bags for years – my car is full of them so when I go to the grocers I always have several. I carry compact nylon foldable/self-stuffing sacks in my purse and coat pocket so even at hardware stores and when buying drug store items I am using my own bag. This is an EASY habit to establish and if more people did so it would have a positive cumulative impact. I simply don’t bring home any extra bags. In fact I have to remember to get one paper grocery bag every 2 weeks so I have one to place my magazines and junk mail in to drop in the paper recycling collection bin my local scout troop maintains for fund-raising. Once you get used to using the fabric bags they are so much superior for carrying groceries and heavy items that you don’t want to go back to flimsy plastic and paper anyway.

My community offers semi-weekly recycling including paperboard, glass and most plastics. I try to only buy products with cardboard or glass containers, but if I have to buy a product with plastic packaging or wrapper I check to see if it has the recycling code that will allow me to put it into the bin. Again, an easy habit to create with modest effort. I generate so little trash that some weeks I don’t have enough to put out other than recycling and never have more than half a bag even when I do.

Williowleaf I applaud your practice. A very good thing to do. However the problem is much more complex. I am not saying not to do what you have been doing for year, but that we still have to do more. Check out this article in the Economist Mag. One thing the articule didn’t address is it isn’t that being nontoxic for the most part is the problem, but that small pieces in the Ocean end up clogging the digestive track of filter feeders, and birds that pick up small objects thinking it is food…

The problem for us is the stuff in the oceans is for the most part out of sight. Also the Oceans have been viewed as so huge it is OK to dump in them.

Straws are going to be band in a few towns on Long island along with styro and disposal utensils.

I hate drinking from straws.

They way the world is developing weapons plastic won’t matter.

@PaddleDog52 said:

Straws are going to be band in a few towns on Long island along with styro and disposal utensils.

Yes there is a growing consciousness about this especially in coastal towns and cities. That is a good thing, but we still have a long way to go. These steps need to happen inland as stuff in every ditch and creek eventually can end up in the oceans. A global consciousness is needed as well. I don’t really like standing on a soap box, but am beginning to feel ashamed that I have not given it more priority. Like many here I have made an effort not to litter, to recycle, to pick up trash. However there are so many things that seem more urgent.

The oceans provide not just food, but vast amounts of O2. What happens when we destroy a major portion of the web of life there. We think of the oceans as huge and beyond our capacity to do much damage. We look out at the surface and it doesn’t look different, but we can’t easily see what damage is being done below. The current projection is there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050. In the video I posted on my other thread about this topic the diver was there to photograph the large congregation of Manta Rays That can be seen of Bali. He found only one Manta Ray and very few fish, but an ocean full of plastic. I look at a Manta Ray’s always gaping mouth, and see a design to fill it’s stomach with plastic that will not digest. When it dies from a clogged digestive tract no one will witness it or know. From the surface the ocean will look the same. So I will step off the soap box for now, but I will continue to talk about this in the future. If I am not part of the solution then I am part of the problem.

There are ways that localities can improve the volume of recycling and encourage reduction in accumulation and disposal of trash.

I lived for 8 years in Grand Rapids, Michigan, which had an excellent policy. Most towns, like the one outside Pittsburgh where I live now, charge each resident a flat annual rate for trash collection. There is NO incentive to recycle or to reduce disposal. I pay the same for my single small bag of trash (and some weeks, none at all) as does my slob of a neighbor who puts out half a pickup truck load every week (garbage, broken toys, old furniture, construction debris) and never uses his recycle bin.

But in Grand Rapids you paid for garbage pickup by having to use heavy duty bags that had the city logo on them that you could buy in any grocery, hardware store or corner drug store for $1 each (optionally you could buy wired tags to attach to your own bags). The trash haulers would not only not pick up any bags that were not labeled or tagged, but the house outside which they were placed could be fined for leaving them out. Larger items that did not fit in the bags required a purchased tag costing $3 or $5 (for furniture, old carpet, small appliances, etc.) or a $10 tag for a refrigerator or AC unit. You could have as many recycling bins as you wanted and collection of anything recyclable in those was FREE. They also did pickups of compostable yard waste at a reduced rate (labeled large paper sacks). So there was a strong financial incentive to recycle and to generate less garbage that seemed to work very well. I usually only had one bag a week so trash collection cost me about $50 a year instead of the nearly $200 I pay now for about the same amount of disposal. And it caused me to think even more about what I threw out.

There is profit and practicality in re-using plastics and keeping them out of the waste stream. At my local construction surplus and material recycling store today I saw a fairly new product (Hydroblox) that is used to replace French drains for landscaping drainage control – it is made of compressed slabs of miscellaneous squiggly noodles made of recycled thermoplastic (could be old kayaks!)-- kind of looks like big multi-colored blocks of ramen noodles.

Progress is being made in compostable and even digestible biomass-based plastics. Yes, it is an immense global problem, but we can’t afford to be so overwhelmed by it that we throw up our hands and do nothing. In my own lifetime we have reduced many forms of pollution and energy wastefulness, in many cases beyond what the skeptics predicted. We have to keep trying.

@Johnnysmoke said:
What ever happened to the old school paper wax staws? Seems like a good time for them to make a comeback.

Ted’s Montana grill uses those.

Thumbs up on that. I applaud the steps taken by cities like Grand Rapids and Vancouver. Now to get the places where we live to look at and consider following such practices. It is a matter of educating and being a squeaky wheel.

@castoff said:
Thumbs up on that. I applaud the steps taken by cities like Grand Rapids and Vancouver. Now to get the places where we live to look at and consider following such practices. It is a matter of educating and being a squeaky wheel.

You might be painting the canvas bleaker than it actually is. Many small communities have recycling programs. In my county we approved a millage (by a wide margin) to contract with a nearby county which runs a very efficient and profitable recycling program. There are five stations located within my county with at least four dual-stream bins, usable by anyone whether a resident or not. In the summer, additional bins are placed because of the summer traffic. I’m not aware of any county up here that doesn’t have a recycling program in place and as the millages are renewed, they must have a good participation rate. When you’re paying for something, you tend to use it.

True, there’s no pickup and we have to drive to the stations, but that’s no big deal as they’re logistically well placed for most residents. It works, even in rural areas which don’t have streetlights, sidewalks, and the only services provided are township fire (volunteer), and county police, snowplowing, and ambulance.

Trash pickup must be contracted by each homeowner with the hauler of their choice. Company I use sells 10 bags for $40. When a bag is full, you put it out. It takes me about a month to fill a bag as all fruit/veggie peelings, coffee grounds, tea bags, etc. are composted. Twigs and branches which fall I consider a gift from the trees: that’s kindling for my woodstove. Did you know that dried orange peels make excellent kindling? The oil in the peel burns quite merrily.

As a kid growing up in Florida after eating the orange I would squeeze the peel at a lit match to watch it act like a miniature flame thrower as the oil passed through the flame. I seemed to always find it entertaining. Heck video games were nonexistent!

Yes there is much more recycling today. Where I live once a month they pick up our recycle can that contains corrugated cardboard, news paper, recyclable plastic, and aluminum cans. They don’t separate plastic that isn’t recyclable like plastic forks, straws, bags, and styrofoam which goes into the regular trash that goes to the dump. I was told that it went to a different dump because that reduced the price of dumping the trash.

That being said the road ways here are still lined with litter. I pick up trash out of my front yard thrown out by passing cars. I will take photos of the trash on the river we will be doing a sweep off the weekend after Earth Day. Lots of plastic bottles, balls of all sizes, and numerous old plastic coolers that wash down river from the towns up stream. So even with local recycling the problem is that many folks don’t care where they throw their trash, and suspect they don’t care how much plastic they throw into their regular garbage either.

In my opinion there is one thing much worse than plastic and that is glass. Run over a plastic bottle and nothing much happens, but run over a broken glass bottle and your day is likely to go bad for awhile. I’m a bike rider and glass is the enemy.

As a realist, I know that glass and plastic containers are not likely to go away very soon and I also know that the real enemy is slovenly people. There’s a law I could support–ban slobs.

I like the idea of benchmarking other countries and cultures to see how they are attacking this problem.

Ann Arbor was awesome for recycling and if anyone made a mistake they would receive a fluorescent piece of paper with clear instructions so you get it right next time plus all your neighbors get to see that you are an environmental criminal…“oh my god did you hear that they used the wrong twine to bundle their newspapers?”

Frankly I think it’s time to start alternative communities…where like-minded people can live with others that share their values. Or maybe the Amish already have it figured out, I don’t know.

Check the Ocean Conservancy’s website at for reports for annual clean-ups composition. Straws do feature in top 10. I use their mobile app to report my own clean-ups in Beaufort SC about every 3 or so weeks where I can get to slogging on foot at low tide and then a few times per year with organized group efforts from kayaks. I find lots of PS drink cups, some with lids and straws. But far more PET bottles and beer cans (Bud Light predominates). Not too much fishing line or ghost gear. Occasionally I do score some cool wine or mineral water bottles from prior centuries. Trash then, treasures now!