Put down your smoothie, Big Gulp or to-go cup of coffee for a minute. Let’s spend that minute thinking not about what you’re drinking, but what you’re drinking out of. Is it paper, plastic, ceramic or glass? What’s that straw made of, now that you’re thinking about it?
A new consciousness about single-use plastics and the realities of how we package, serve and eat our food and beverages is cutting through our community. When we look at the garbage washing ashore, clogging our mangroves and piling up in our dumps, environmental groups like Surfrider are starting to ask us to think about the consumer end of the problem in a new way. Let’s focus not only on recycling and reusing our containers, they suggest, but on stopping the problem at it’s source. If we aren’t using single-use plastics, then we don’t have to grapple with the disposal of them.
Good problem-solving takes bites out of a big problem from all sides, so this approach shows real promise. If every restaurant and coffee shop as well as every consumer and customer is thinking critically about what our stuff is in, the forces of markets, regulations and consumer habits can generate real change in our environment.
In the spirit of taking bites, the Village of Pinecrest just banned the sale of plastic straws in our municipality. We also signed our city-run coffee bar in Cypress Hall up for the Surfrider’s Ocean Friendly Restaurants program, which commits us to making gradual, sustainable, ocean friendly choices, like instituting proper recycling procedures, providing reusable tableware for onsite dining and providing straws only upon request. Next, a ban on the sale of polystyrene is on the agenda. Combined with public awareness initiatives, we believe a sea-change in the community’s reaction to the proliferation of single-use plastics in our country will happen.
While local governments like ours are taking the lead on the plastics problem covering our beaches, the State of Florida is hiding its face in the sand. Municipalities are preempted by the state legislature from banning those ubiquitous and environmentally ruinous plastic bags from our towns. The City of Coral Gables decided to bait that bear by passing a plastic bag ban. Should it be contested, I bet they will defend their local ordinance and home rule vigorously.
What is Miami-Dade County doing to address the plastic spoons, bags and straws that litter our oceans, clog up our dumps and accumulate unbidden in our kitchen drawers? Pretty much nothing. We should demand more from them.
Over time, notions of what is acceptable will change. Bamboo silverware and paper straws will seem as common and unremarkable as plastic cups and straws do now. Ask your local city or county to do it’s part to take a bite out of the problem. It’s the only way to create lasting change.