Plastic straw ban takes effect in Malibu

Hosted by

Malibu officials say they’ve looked at the numbers: an estimated 500 million straws are thrown away every day in the U.S. A recent study estimated that there are about 7.5 million plastic straws littering America’s beaches. And a widely cited World Economic Forum report predicts there could be more plastic by weight than fish in the world's oceans by 2050.

Plastic is viewed as a dangerous source of marine pollution. A video of a sea turtle with a straw stuck up its nose went viral, and added to calls for plastic straw use to be outlawed.

Malibu officials decided they can make a difference. They have a long history of this: they banned plastic bags in 2008, eight years before the statewide ban took effect. The city also banned single-use styrofoam containers.

The new regulation also requires consumers to request a straw if they want one rather than automatically being given one.

And Malibu’s not alone. Manhattan Beach and Seattle have already banned plastic straws. New York City is considering such a ban right now. So is the European Union.

And other coastal communities in Washington State, Florida and New Jersey are doing the same.

Santa Monica already has a plastic food packaging ban in place and is planning to extend that to include plastic straws (as well as lids, utensils, stirrers and lid plugs). The city will hold a public meeting on Thursday to answer questions and hear local concerns.

The primary concern seems to be, what is the alternative to plastic? Options include glass, wood, bamboo, metal -- and pasta! (The very first straws, incidentally, were rye -- essentially grass -- straws.)

The owner of the Paradise Cove restaurant in Malibu has got publicity for his straws made of pasta. He says they are better and take less time to decompose. Or you can cook and eat them afterwards!

However, the most common alternative right now is paper and that has people complaining that paper straws go soggy in liquid.

Ian Nelson, an SMC student, told the student paper Corsair that “giving people straws that do not work is silly. Paper straws should not be a thing unless they function comparably to plastic ones.”

Another student, Caro Vilain, said, “if you use straws, but don't like paper straws, just get your own reusable one.”

But she also added a great response: “I personally don't have to worry about not having a straw because I was born with lips, they do a pretty good job at letting me drink out of a cup.”

Predictably, the plastics industry argues that communities can do a better job of recycling plastic straws, and that banning plastic straws alone will not solve threats to marine life.

Some businesses complain that plastic straws are cheaper than alternatives made of paper, bamboo, wood or glass. Note that last week McDonald's shareholders rejected -- by a huge majority -- a proposal to take a step toward a ban on plastic straws. The fast food chain is said to distribute an estimated 95 million single-use straws around the world every day. But they won’t be allowed plastic straws in their McDonalds in Malibu.

According to Malibu Mayor Rick Mullens, the only voice of opposition to the city’s plastic straw ban came from the owner of the local McDonalds.

This has also managed to become a political issue.

Democratic Assembly Majority Leader Ian Calderon has introduced a bill that bars sit- down restaurants from providing plastic straws unless a customer requests one.

This bill and two other anti-plastic bills have sparked intense pushback by conservatives and a coalition of manufacturers and industry groups. GOP Assemblyman Travis Allen even tweeted: “California Democrat Leader Ian Calderon wants to ban PLASTIC STRAWS. Is there any part of your life that Democrats don’t want to control? As Governor, this is exactly the type of legislation that I will VETO.”

However, Malibu’s Mayor Rick Mullen said “I am a no-party preference person. And to be honest with you I think this is kind of a no-party issue.” He likens it to anti-littering and anti-smoking campaigns of the past and says everyone’s life improve will as a result.

Malibu has a population of about 13,000, it’s quite small, but it receives about 15 million tourists a year and is famous the world over.

Malibu Mayor Rick Mullen says the city is lauded and ridiculed in equal parts for their radical environmental positions, but, he points out, it does have one of the larger coastlines of any California town -- 21 miles of coastline.

“If we can do our little part here and clean up our backyard that's great, but if we can also get the word out... after [people] get over their initial reaction of, ‘hey those knuckleheads in Malibu are doing something stupid again,’ and they think, ‘you know, maybe we should not use plastic straws either.’ So that's I think the big picture,” he said.

The ban will take effect Friday, June 1, with a public event at 4pm at which you can also see a public-art installation called STRAWS and made of over 15,000 straws recovered from SoCal beach clean-ups.