Starbucks announced Monday that it will phase out plastic straws over the next two years. The move comes as other corporate giants like McDonald's, Burger King and Dunkin' Donuts experiment with ways to cut down on packaging waste.
Plastic grocery bags are also under siege. Some cities are cajoling stores to stop handing them out. Others have taxed them or banned them. Kenya, the East African nation, has threatened to jail anyone who sells or uses a plastic bag.
The war on wasteful plastics is a noble cause, backed by science, one well outlined in Tampa Bay Times reporter Tracey McManus' recent article highlighting a handful of local efforts to keep plastics from fouling our environment. As I read the story Sunday, I scanned my kitchen for plastic offenses. They were everywhere.
The bacon came wrapped in plastic, as did the veggie patties. The strawberries were housed in plastic. My son squirted ketchup from a plastic bottle, similar to the one that delivered the orange juice. A plastic bag kept the bread fresh, sealed by one of those plastic doohickeys. The nearby dish soap? Plastic.
A few days earlier, inside the supermarket, I had narrowed my lunch options to a yummy burrito or a ho-hum salad. I went with the turkey Cobb, thinking it was better for my health. The health of the environment? That's another matter.
The salad came encased in plastic, with the dressing in its own plastic container and the guacamole in a small plastic bag. At the counter, the friendly cashier asked if I needed a (plastic) fork, which would have come wrapped in plastic. I declined that and the plastic bag.
My examples could easily go on, as I suspect they could for most Floridians. Plastic surrounds us. It makes life easier in some ways, but it's also an environmental challenge, given that much of it doesn't really degrade so much as it breaks down into ever smaller parts, seeping into our waterways and food supply.
Two examples of how bad the problem has become: Plastic products make up a large part of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a trash pile floating between Hawaii and California that is often described as the size of Texas. Closer to home, the water in Tampa Bay per gallon averages about five pieces of plastic smaller than an eighth of an inch, according to a marine science and chemistry professor in McManus' article.
Recycling helps. So does using cloth bags at the grocery store, carrying a reusable coffee cup and stashing washable cutlery at work. Straw lovers have options other than plastic, including paper or the stainless steel varieties (8 for $10 on Amazon).
So how else can we cut down on plastic waste? Do you have tips or tricks to share? How have you been able to cut down on plastic in your everyday life? Do you have questions about plastic waste that we can help answer?
We'd like to hear from you.
Please email responses to firstname.lastname@example.org with a subject line of Plastic Waste, or mail them to Graham Brink, Tampa Bay Times, 490 First Ave. S, St. Petersburg, FL, 33701.
UPDATE: The list is out.
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Contact Graham Brink at email@example.com. Follow @GrahamBrink.