Paper, or plastic? Or perhaps you’d prefer recycled corn.
All three materials are used to make the iconic tube that’s become a huge environmental headache: the straw.
“We are a throwaway society, and we need to stop that,” said Gillian Bartlett, a short-term D.C. resident. “We’ve been really wasteful, especially with plastics.”
The numbers are staggering.
The Sierra Club says Americans use 500 million plastic straws a day.
Starbucks says its customers use one billion of them every year.
Now, District leaders are considering a total ban on plastic straws in the city.
“They end up in the drainage, they end up in the river, they end up in the gutter,” said Ward 2 Council Member Jack Evans. “They end up everywhere.”
Evans has drafted a bill banning plastic straws and stir-sticks.
D.C. already has a law banning non-recyclable materials like Styrofoam, but the measure doesn’t specifically name plastic straws.
“Plastic is becoming the number one disposable item in America, and we want to start to cut back on that,” Evans explained. “The goal is to eliminate these from general public use.”
For Catherine Plume, the conservation chairperson with the DC Sierra Club, this is personal.
Nearly every day, she patrols her Windham Place neighborhood in Northwest, scooping up handfuls of discarded plastic straws.
“Straws and straw-wrappers are a real problem,” she said. “They can’t be recycled because they’re too small to go through the recycling stream, so they just end up on the street.”
Starbucks is already phasing out plastic straws, in favor of recyclable adult sippy cups.
The plan is to be fully implemented nationwide, by 2020.
Close to home, the Tryst Coffeebar has ditched its plastic straws, in favor of recycled corn and paper straws.
“I know they’re finding a lot of straws in marine life,” said customer Evie Wolfe, from D.C]. “There’s a lot of micro-plastics in the ocean. I think it’s unnecessary to use single-use plastic.”
There is one small wrinkle.
It turns out paper can be more expensive than plastic.
Some culinary suppliers offer plastic straws for about a half-cent each.
Paper straws can cost two cents more.
But Bartett declares she’s willing to pay more to help the environment.
“Eventually, we’re going to pay it,” she said. “So myself, I would rather pay a couple cents more for a compostable or biodegradable straw.”
Evans says he’s willing to have exceptions on the ban for those with disabilities.
He hopes the DC Council will begin discussing the ban after the summer break.
The issue boils down to one thing, Evans emphasizes.
“We have too much plastic everywhere,” he said.