Last straw

Lawmakers fed up as plastic items find their way to the creeks and ocean



Americans throw away 500 million plastic straws every day, the National Park Service says. They’re one of the most common pollutants found in the ocean.

After a video in 2015 went viral showing biologists pulling a straw out of a sea turtle’s nose, many cities and environmental groups said enough is enough and stepped up their efforts to ban the use of straws and other single-use plastics such as stirs and utensils.

On Feb. 12, the Malibu City Council passed an ordinance that prohibited the sale and use of plastic straws, stirs and cutlery within city limits.

“We’ve made great progress in addressing plastic pollution, including bans on plastic bags, plastic sandbags and polystyrene foam,” Mayor Rick Mullen said. “We are now adding plastic straws, stirrers and cutlery to the list of plastic pollution that we will stop at the source so that it doesn’t reach our beaches and the open ocean.”

Malibu is the first city in the region to vote for a ban. Calabasas, Agoura Hills and Westlake Village are thinking about it.

Calabasas High School junior Mark Eddy, 17, recently helped start the school’s National Beta Club. It’s a local chapter of a national club focused on teaching students community service and leadership. Their first project is to get the city to ban straws.

“We’re starting from a pretty small level, looking for ways to raise awareness and let people know that it’s an issue because it’s overlooked by a lot of people,” Eddy said. “Ultimately we probably would go to the City Council and, hopefully, find some better alternatives to using straws in the City of Calabasas.”

The club’s faculty advisor, Gina Bryant, suggested focusing on straws. Bryant is an English teacher but she has also been a volunteer worker with sea turtles in Costa Rica where she’s seen the impact of plastic litter on sea life first hand.

“The first turtle I ever worked with came up on shore covered in fishing line. It was the middle of the night; luckily there was a local on the beach who had a knife and we were able to cut the line off this turtle that came on the beach to lay eggs,” Bryant said. “She was just wound up in the fishing line; it was awful. People don’t see it but it’s there. The ocean is the heart of our planet; if it’s gone then we’re gone.”

Bryant said she suggested the group focus on banning straws because users aren’t aware of their impact on pollution as the items often end up in the ocean, out of sight.

“(Plastics) are causing a problem and it’s something we don’t see, so it’s not in our face,” Bryant said. “They’re finding whales that are washing up filled with plastic, or like the turtle with the straw in its nose.”

The club is hoping Calabasas leaders will consider a ban and continue their record of environmental stewardship. The city previously voted to prohibit restaurants from using polystyrene, commonly called Styrofoam, in food packaging and was one of the first cities in the state to ban plastic-bag use.

Neither Westlake Village nor Agoura Hills have ordinances addressing the use of plastics.

Ray Taylor, City Manager for Westlake Village, said there are no plans to change that.

“The City Council has not taken up this issue,” Taylor said. “As far as I know there’s nothing anticipated in the future, or in the near future. That may change, I don’t know. Other than encouraging the recycling of plastic materials and other recyclable materials, the city hasn’t taken any action on banning plastic straws or utensils.”

In 2016 voters approved Proposition 67, which banned the use of plastic bags statewide. In January, state Assemblyman Ian Calderon, who represents the 57th district, introduced a bill that would make it illegal for restaurant servers to give out plastic straws unless they are requested.

In a statement accompanying the bill the assembly member said he hopes to raise awareness about the impact straws have on the environment.

“We need to create awareness around the issue of one-time-use plastic straws and its detrimental effects on our landfills, waterways and oceans,” Calderon said.

Talking Trash

In the L.A. area alone, 10 metric tons of plastic fragments are carried into the Pacific Ocean every day, according to the Center for Biological Diversity, an Arizona-based nonprofit. Sea creatures often mistake plastics for food or get tangled in ropes or plastic wrappers.

Thousands of turtles die every year from eating plastic bags, Styrofoam and other pollutants. Sea birds often starve to death after consuming large amounts of plastic. The material stays in their stomachs, leading them to eat less. Nearly 100 percent of Laysian albatross chicks have plastic in their stomachs.

A study by the World Economic Forum predicted that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.