A proposed bill in California would make it illegal for restaurants to give straws to customers, unless requested, with penalties including fines and jail. While this is a well-meaning attempt to cut plastic pollution – similar plastic bag bans at stores in some cities – it puts the onus on consumers when the real problem is systemic.
Plastic pollution is in oceans, food chains, leaching chemicals into water. Animals and fish get tangled up in them. Traditional recycling isn’t always effective. The trash isn’t recycled. Or it’s recycled into something that can’t be further recycled. In rural areas it’s often not practical as it costs more to haul the plastics to a sometimes distant facility that the recycled plastics are worth.
A better alternative is the circular economy model, where waste is minimized by planning in advance how materials can be reused and recycled at a product’s end of life rather than trying to figure that out after the fact. To make this happen, we can support groups like the Ellen MacArthur Foundation that are partnering with industry to incorporate “cradle-to-cradle” (i.e., circular economic) design into their products.
This could be our future—a future of clean cities, rivers and beaches but also simpler, more responsible choices for consumers. There are now too many humans and too much plastic on this pale blue dot to continue planning our industrial expansions on a quarterly basis. It’s time to stop blaming consumers for our plastic crisis and demand a better system.