GREENWICH — As a ban on plastic bags takes effect next month, environmentalists and policy-makers are turning their attention to use of plastic straws and the damage they can inflict on the environment.
Town lawmakers approved the ban of the thin plastic bags from local stores in March.
The discussion over waste, plastics and single-use straws has now become a major topic for businesses and consumers in Greenwich, following a national trend.
“A lot of businesses are being won over,” said Claire Werner, a member of the local environmental advocacy group, Bring Your Own (BYO) Greenwich. “Everyone’s looking how to proceed in a responsible and economically viable way to solve this pollution problem.”
Starbucks announced last month it would remove single-use plastic straws from its stores by 2020, eliminating more than 1 billion plastic straws per year from their stores. American Airlines made a similar announcement. Earlier this year, Hyatt hotels said plastic straws would be available only upon request. McDonald’s is also testing alternatives to plastic straws.
At the municipal level, on July 1, the city of Seattle banned the use of plastic straws, becoming the first major U.S. city to do so. Other cities, including New York City, are considering similar steps.
In Greenwich, those moves by big corporations and municipal governments are being followed closely by members of BYO, the advocacy group behind the move to enact the plastic bag ban in Greenwich.
“We’ve become too accustomed to being a throwaway society, to believing that convenience is the ultimate priority. In our view, there are other priorities. There’s long term thinking. We don’t live in a disposable world anymore,” said Mary Shaw Marks, a member of BYO.
She said Greenwich is at the forefront of the movement to limit waste associated with plastics. “We feel Greenwich has been a leader in the state in this regard. We were the second town (to ban bags), after Westport, and now dozens of towns are coming to us, asking how you do this,” said Shaw Marks.
She said a number of local businesses, clubs and restaurants have been considering the elimination of plastic straws, or switching to paper.
“What does your town want to be? Taking a chance of polluting your environment? Or forward thinking and innovative? When the whole world is addressing plastic pollution, why wouldn’t Greenwich be right up there, too?” asked Jeanine Behr Getz of BYO.
Local businesses have been taking a hard look at the plastic straw issue, few more than Green and Tonic, which produces a large number of smoothies in easy-to-consume cups every day. The store is working toward the elimination of plastic straws.
“As a healthy plant-based shop that sells smoothies and strives to keep our eco-footprint small and gentle, we’ve tried to get away from plastic straws in the past. We currently offer paper ones as an alternative to our plastic ones or re-usable metal ones for purchase,” said Green and Tonic marketing manager Emily Watson.
“We even encourage our guests to sip their smoothie “neat,” without a lid or Watson said. “When you’re on the go, like so many of our guests, however, a lid and straw is almost mandatory. That’s why we’re really happy and proud to offer a really awesome paper straw in the next several weeks. It’s wide and sturdy enough for smoothies, and we can’t wait to launch it.”
Paper straws will add cost for the store, she said, “But we know that our purchases are leading to a more sustainable future and a happier planet. And if more and more shops like ours move to paper straws, it will become the norm and customer expectation will shift for the better.”
At Town Hall, Director of Environmental Affairs Patricia Sesto said the town administration isn’t contemplating any regulatory action on plastic straws. She said the movement to cut down on plastic straws appears to have plenty of grassroots momentum without any input from government officials.
“Right now the social movement associated with it is cruising along pretty well,” Sesto said. “It just got to the tipping point ... Already, you go to restaurants, and you see paper straws or people declining straws.”
While the discussion over straws is continuing, town officials and BYO are focused on the successful roll-out of the plastic bag ban on Sept. 12. Customers will be expected to bring their own bags when shopping, and stores will offer paper bags to those who don’t.
BYO has held a collection drive to collect 5,000 reusable bags to give to anyone who needs them. “We want to be focused on the bags, to make sure that’s successful, that everyone is comfortable,” Shaw Marks said.
Sesto said she is cautiously optimistic the bag ban will be an easy transition. She said the town recently carried out a mass mailing to local businesses about the new bag policy, and there were only 10 or so questions about compliance from local businesses.
“I see that as a positive,” Sesto said.