Robert U. Montgomery

The Plastics Problem for Our Oceans--- And It's not Straws

The Plastics Problem for Our Oceans--- And It's not Straws

As someone who cares about nature and the environment, I consider people who litter our waterways, roads, parks, and other public places with their trash among the lowest of the low. If my car were equipped with a Star Trek pulse cannon, I'd have no problem obliterating anyone I caught in the act.

If I were benevolent king of this country, owing no allegiances to any special interests, I'd ban takeout from fast-food restaurants, a major source of pollution along our roads.

But let's get real: Banning plastic straws in the U.S., as has happened in San Francisco--- a city literally awash in human waste--- is idiotic and little more than politicians pretending to do something meaningful to curry favor among voters.

Why do I say that? Here's why:

plastic pollution

An estimated 9 tons of plastic annually wash into our oceans. That's from more than 35 million tons of plastic pollution produced globally. Five Asian countries are responsible for more of that ocean waste than the rest of the world combined. Green Earth reports that residents of Hong Kong discard 5.2 million plastic water bottles daily. According to Reason, the U.S. is responsible for about 1 percent of ocean plastic pollution.

Plastic straws make up about 4 percent of ocean plastic trash by piece, but far less by weight. Each one weighs about 1/67 of an ounce. That adds up to about 2,000 pounds-- or one ton--- out of nine million tons.

"Bans can play a role," says oceanographer Kara Lavendar Law, co-author of a 2015 study about plastic pollution. "We are not going to solve the problem banning straws."

I agree. Straws simply are an easy and highly visible target for politicians who want to pretend that they're champions of the environment.
"All things considered, this new ordinance (in Santa Barbara) isn’t going to be making a real dent in the problem it’s intended to solve — but it could create some harm," said National Review . . . Straw bans could end up having a negative impact on disabled people who cannot drink without them."

On the other hand, I'm all for restaurants who want to voluntarily stop handing out plastic straws and proudly proclaim that they are doing so. But in Santa Barbara now, a restaurant employee who gives a plastic straw to a customer faces punishment of 6 months in jail--- for each offense. That's the same as California's penalty for knowingly passing on HIV to a sexual partner. Again, idiotic.

But plastic pollution is a huge problem for our planet, and especially for our oceans.

"For every pound of tuna we're taking out of the ocean, we're putting two pounds of plastic in the ocean," said ocean scientist Sherry Lippiatt, California regional coordinator for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's marine debris program.

Additionally, seabirds can ingest as much as 8 percent of their body weight in plastic, which for humans "is equivalent to the average woman having the weight of two babies in her stomach," said Denise Hardesty of Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization.

For more information about this problem and more thoughtful recommendations for dealing with them than bans on plastic straws, check out Ocean Conservancy's
"Stemming the Tide: Land-based strategies for a plastic-free ocean."Also, 4Ocean is a great organization that cleans up the plastic and other trash in our oceans.
(Photo by Muntaka Chasant is of plastic pollution in Ghana.)