The last straw

With plastic bags gone,
Calabasas now seeks to get rid of harmful straws



The City of Calabasas continues its push to minimize the harmful environmental impact of certain consumer products. City officials prohibited restaurants from using polystyrene containers in 2007, and in 2011 banned the use of disposable plastic shopping bags.

Now, the City Council has its sights set on getting rid of another source of pollution—straws.

The council ordered a study on the impact that banning plastic straws, utensils and drink stirrers would have on businesses in the community. The issue is being discussed by the city’s environmental commission.

Alex Farassati, Calabasas environmental services supervisor, said the move was prompted by a similar ordinance in Malibu, which passed in February.

Calabasas city staffers surveyed 41 businesses to find out what effect a ban would have and how difficult it would be to switch to biodegradable replacements.

“Most businesses don’t have any problem doing it, but they need time to switch from one product to another,” Farassati said. “Some said because they’re a franchise the decision has to go to their corporate office, and we understand it. We got the same answers when we did the polystyrene ban, but eventually they all got on board without any problems.”

The Malibu ordinance, which Calabasas is using as a model for its own potential ban, states that businesses can’t use any form of plastic, even bioplastic— compostable and biodegradable petroleum or biologically based polymer. Suggested alternatives include paper, sugar cane and bamboo.

The Calabasas City Council asked the Environmental Commission to weigh in on the idea. At a meeting on May 1, members of the commission formed a subcommittee to investigate the effect of straws and other single-use plastics on the environment.

Martha Fritz, vice chair of the environmental commission, said at the meeting that she understands why people would want to ban straws but questioned the efficacy of such an ordinance.

“I’m curious if there might be a better way to prevent (straws) from getting into the stream and running down to the ocean. I support protecting the oceans from plastic, but I’m not sure what the best method for Calabasas to do that is,” she said. “I tend to not like to have the government make a ban on individual items that affect people’s lifestyle choices. I think teaching is a better method in general.”

Farassati said he expects the commission to present the City Council with its findings this summer. If Calabasas adopts a ban, it would join Davis, San Luis Obispo, Seattle and a few other cities in banning businesses from using plastic straws.

In 2016 voters approved Proposition 67, which banned the use of disposable plastic bags statewide. In January, Assembly member Ian Calderon (D-City of Industry) introduced a bill that would prohibit restaurant servers from providing customers with plastic straws unless they are requested.

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

The statement also said that disposable straws and stirrers were the sixth most collected items during the state’s coastal cleanup days from 1989 to 2014.

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. Thousands of turtles, seals and other sea creatures die every year from eating plastic pollution or getting entangled in it. Sea birds often starve to death after consuming large amounts of plastic. The material stays in their stomachs, leading them to eat less. Almost all Laysan albatross chicks have plastic in their stomachs, the organization says.

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