26-Jun-2018 (Tue)
Wherein this is some kind of strawman argument.

Straws. Apparently they're the new Devil in town.

You may have noticed around town that straws in your drink are harder to come by lately. This is because we've all been hearing rumors for about a year now that some time soon a local ordinance is going to require plastic straws to be "by request only", so we've been giving that a try here at DNA for a little while now. Most people seem not to notice or care, so we're going through fewer straws. So that's fine.

Oakland recently went opt-in but it looks like the proposed SF ordinance is going to try to ban plastic straws entirely. And there's another proposed ordinance (or maybe it's the same one, I'm not sure) that would ban the use of all "single-use food service ware" (plates, cups, forks) on city property (which means every outdoor festival or street fair).

Some other SF bars and restaurants have already switched to paper straws, but mostly people hate those, because they get soggy and fail, you can't fuss with them at all without breaking them, and sometimes they feel like licking a popsicle stick (shudder).

Oh yeah, and they're way more expensive than the plastic ones. So there's that. Straws are a small part of the cost of each cocktail, but every little increase... sucks. A little while ago there was an article where someone from a local bar claimed that they were saving a bunch of money on their Recology bill because of diversion discounts due to paper straws, which sounded impossible to me. So I followed up on that, and yeah, they were very mistaken. So if you hear stories of how much more economical paper straws are, don't believe them.

And of course there's a paper straw shortage already, due to the sudden up-tick in demand. I just hope that by the time we're required to switch, the economies of scale will have driven the prices down. But more likely it's just going to be another instance of, "Great news, everybody! Your business just got more expensive to run!"

And this is all nonsense, anyway:

Plastic Straws Aren't the Problem: Skipping straws may be hip. But there are much better ways to fight pollution.

Two Australian scientists estimate that there are up to 8.3 billion plastic straws scattered on global coastlines. Yet even if all those straws were suddenly washed into the sea, they'd account for about .03 percent of the 8 million metric tons of plastics estimated to enter the oceans in a given year. [...]

Using surface samples and aerial surveys, the group determined that at least 46 percent of the plastic in the garbage patch by weight comes from a single product: fishing nets. Other fishing gear makes up a good chunk of the rest.

The impact of this junk goes well beyond pollution. Ghost gear, as it's sometimes called, goes on fishing long after it's been abandoned, to the great detriment of marine habitats. In 2013, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science estimated that lost and abandoned crab pots take in 1.25 million blue crabs each year.

But something must be done, and this is something, so we must do it. I guess.

It seems to me that recycling at the individual or small-business level is nothing but a placebo. Only the massive industrial scale matters. The ecological damage done by BP's Deepwater Horizon in a minute totally erased all of the trash-sorting you did in your entire life. Even discounting the fact that almost all of your "recycling" used to be made to magically disappear by shipping it to China -- but they've stopped taking it. So these days much of it goes straight into a domestic landfill anyway.

Using different straws or sorting your trash isn't going to save us from extinction. Our only hope is the immediate dismantling of the fossil fuel industry, plus planetary-scale carbon sequestration projects.

But that's hard, so let's ban straws instead, because that will make us feel like we're making a difference.

13 Responses:

  1. Yuma Tripp says:

    Can i just roll up a $100 bill and use that for my cocktails?

  2. Where you getting these 100 dollar bill Ritchie rich?

  3. Jay says:

    I agree with the sentiment, but for what it's worth my company switched to compostable straws that look and feel like plastic. They are way better than paper straws, the only discernable difference is that they "melt" in hot water. They are probably stupid expensive but not as hard to come by as paper straws right now I'm told.

  4. Internetimal says:

    At this point I'm banking on our ability to use robots to mine landfills.

    Also, on average it seems like people are either too oblivious or too depressed to give a fuck when it comes to even doing the obvious.

    • jwz says:

      I'm sure there will be robots that mine landfills, but that in no way keeps us under 4°C.

  5. Joe Luser says:

    aspirational recycling. as long as you can keep people focused on their personal behaviors, the structural problem will march on unhindered.

  6. LB says:

    The problems here are that a) it's madness that paper is more expensive than plastic and b) users seem to not like the paper straw experience.
    How about bamboo straws? Or other eco-friendly straws http://www.ecostrawz.co.uk/trade-packs-56-c.asp
    E.g. 400 wheat straws for £20.49 doesn't seem bad?

    • Other Jamie says:

      That's $0.07 per straw. Which is something like 9 times the cost of plastic straws at consumer retail. I have never bought bulk-foodservice straws, but will go out on a limb and suggest they're cheaper sill.

      That's a crazy-high cost increase that does nothing to increase traffic or sales. When running any small business, making choices like that will close you, and that is especially true with bars.