Among the more curious environmental issues of the day appears to be criminalizing plastic drinking straws and stirrers.
The “war on drinking straws” must be true because this week there is a viral video viewed on YouTube more than 5.5 million times of a 2015 incident where a Texas A&M University research team in Costa Rica found a plastic straw stuck in the nose of a sea turtle.
Then there is the widely tossed around statistic that Americans use 500 million plastic drinking straws a day, but upon investigation it appears that number is suspect and had as its basis a 2011 environmental group’s print ad, but no science. There is apparently a single manufacturing facility in Virginia that produced nearly 4 Billion straws last year, most of them small plastic straws for juice boxes, but not swizzle sticks.
Interestingly, on April 1, 2016 Bacardi Limited announced “it has launched an in-house initiative to remove straws and stirrers in cocktails at company events” to prevent 12,000 straws going to landfill every year. We are assured it was not an April Fools joke? And while corporate social responsibility is no doubt a good thing, it is suggested this was a spin on a cost reduction effort, gone bad, .. that has not been widely followed by others.
But in response to the current hue and cry over one of the oldest eating utensils, the California cities of San Luis Obispo and Davis both have gone as far as enacting “straws on request” laws and Manhattan Beach has a law banning all disposable plastics. Also, Seattle has enacted a ban on plastic utensils, including straws, going into effect in July.
However, potentially impacting more than the populations of those few cities, the state of California has pending, Assembly Bill 1884, that would prohibit sit down food facilities from providing a single use plastic straw to customers unless specifically requested by the customer.
Criminalizing the distribution of drinking straws, alcoholic beverage swizzle sticks, coffee stirrers and the like, under the guise of environmental policy, in a state that decriminalized cannabis distribution, appears foolish to many and of concern to even more that this misguided idea might spread East.
The origin of the first drinking straw is not known, but it dates to more than 5,000 years ago. There is a gold straw in a Giza Pyramid that dates to 2589 BC. We are told Sumerians used straws to drink their beer 3,000 years ago to reach the solids at the bottle of the brew.
The origin of drink stirrer’s likely dates to sugar plantations in the West Indies in the 1600s originally a small branch used to stir a refreshing rum elixir called “Switchel.” Queen Victoria was known to use a stirring rod to chase bubbles out of her Champagne, quietly avoiding any embarrassment from those pesky fizzy gasses.
In America it became fashionable in the 1800s to drink from an inexpensive and easily created rye grass straw. The first modern drinking straw was likely the creation of American inventor Marvin C. Stone who began selling paper straws in 1888. And while straws have remained popular, the 1960 era of The Graduate, and “a great future in plastics” has resulted straws becoming part of our culture.
There appears to be little if any science supporting the criminalization of drinking straws? Anti-straw advocacy activists (.. yes, that is a thing) appear focused on post consumer pollution of discarded straws after a single use, but they don’t seem concerned about the associated ‘less than ideally biodegradable’ drink boxes, usually 6 layers of paper lined with aluminum foil, nor is there a hue and cry because plastic drinking straws are typically made from polypropylene, contributing to petroleum consumption?
There are biodegradable drinking straws on the market, but corn based straws have not proven popular when many melt with alcohol. There are paper straws as well as bamboo and straw straws. Metal straws have always had a place, but have carbon footprint issues of their own despite being distributed among Bacardi employees.
Bans do not have a good track record in the alcoholic beverage industry. The 18th amendment may have been ratified in 1919 but Prohibition was overwhelmingly repealed in 1933 with the ratification of the 21st amendment.
Maybe the real issue is that drinking straws are not actually the single greatest environmental threat to life as we know it on this planet?
Bacardi Limited may be the largest privately held spirits company in the world, but most people do not think that the environmental apocalypse will begin with a drinking straw or stirrer, even one in a Mojito served in California. In 2018, possibly the alcoholic beverage industry can find another boogeyman as a last straw for rational environmental policy?