Jill Fecteau believes disposable plastic straws have no place in home kitchens, restaurants, cafes and juice bars.
No place in society, either.
Fecteau is stirring up opposition to the long, multicolored or striped tubes that often accompany cocktails, milkshakes, soft drinks and just about anything else people can pour into a glass or drink from a bottle.
The 24-year-old Waterford resident is trying to get rid of the plastic accessories in Saratoga Springs, where she works in retail. She recently started a GoFundMe page and hopes to raise money that will help promote a grassroots environmental campaign she has named “Earth’s Last Straw.”
One objective: Convince the Saratoga Springs City Council to consider legislation that will prohibit single-use plastic straws.
“Prohibiting plastic straws is the immediate goal; however, the long-term goal would be for the campaign to take on much more than plastic straws,” Fecteau said. “We as a community, and as a nation, need to take a stand against single-use plastics that are polluting the areas that we care about most.”
“I believe the only way to make sustainable local change is through legislation and community awareness and community support,” she added.
The issue is not a new one. People have already lined up against straws in cities such as Miami Beach, and Malibu, California, places that have banned plastic straws from beach property and restaurants, respectively. Seattle’s ban goes into effect in July.
Here are other places where plastic straws have sparked opposition:
— Ocean Conservancy, an environmental group based in Washington D.C., said 400,000 used plastic straws are collected each year during the group’s international coastal cleanup.
— StrawFree.org, based in Southern California, promotes a plastic-free lifestyle through the elimination of single-use plastic straws. The group claims 500 million plastic straws are used in the U.S. every day. StrawFree has developed an alternative — bamboo straws.
— “Be Straw Free” started with 9-year-old Milo Cress in Burlington, Vermont, in 2011. The group urges restaurants to use fewer plastic straws.
— Strawless in Seattle is the campaign in the Pacific Northwest, as advocates ask people to forgo plastic straws and convince restaurants, bars and other businesses to stop handing them out or offer sustainable alternatives.
— The Last Plastic Straw is a project run by the California-based Plastic Pollution Coalition and describes disposable straws as an example of extreme waste generated for minimal convenience. The project asks citizens to push for change in restaurant protocol and practices in their communities. One way: Whenever people order a drink, they should request it without a straw.
— The 2017 movie “Straws” is a short documentary about plastic straw litter and how people can make changes.
— The London-based Straw Wars movement is one of Europe’s takes against single-use plastic straws in restaurants.
‘It never biodegrades’
Fecteau said she has seen plastic litter for years — on trips abroad where she saw plastic thrown into rivers and dumped into streets. She has also seen plastic discarded during hikes in the Adirondacks. And she knows people seem to toss all sorts of plastic out car windows, where the litter ends up on the sides of roads and highways.
Fecteau decided in February she would try to do something about one segment of disposable plastic. She chose straws, partly because they are used for only a short time before they are thrown out.
“Plastic straws are not recyclable,” Fecteau said. “It never biodegrades, it sits forever after your one-hour meal or your 10 minutes at a bar.”
Fecteau’s GoFundMe campaign goal is $2,000; as of Friday she had received $331. Fecteau also has received other donations — manufacturers and distributors of paper and stainless steel straws have sent her a combined 10,000 straws.
She wants to use the money to register the project as a 501(c)(3) organization, which under federal law would be considered a private foundation or private operating foundation and become tax exempt. She would also like to promote the cause through business cards, flyers, posters. She also wants to build a website and create a logo.
“And most importantly, create an event for the campaign,” Fecteau said.
She hopes local juice bars and restaurants will work with her on the plastic straw issue. She plans to give them some of her paper and steel substitutes, and hopes they continue the practice once the freebies run out.
Fecteau said she has given up using plastic, but has had to compromise in some respects. She recently purchased a rotisserie chicken from a restaurant and had to accept a plastic container.
“They said there was no other option,” she said.
Problem is improper disposal
The Washington, D.C.-based Plastic Industry Association, which represents plastic suppliers, advocates proper disposal of straws and other plastic products.
“The focus when it comes to handling these products shouldn’t be on whether or not they exist, but on whether they’re disposed of properly,” said Ashley Stoney, the association’s director of communications, in a statement to The Gazette. “It’s everyone’s responsibility to make sure these items are disposed of in a way that maximizes their value and ensures that they don’t end up where they shouldn’t.”
Stoney said straws technically can be recycled.
“However, the roster of materials that are not acceptable in curbside programs is limiting straws’ recyclability today,” Stoney said. “We advocate for better recycling infrastructure and technology. Regardless of how a straw is being used, and no matter what a straw is made of, it should not end up as litter.”
Local environmental groups are against plastic straws.
Angelina Peone, recycling director for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Schenectady County, said the big number — 500 million straws used daily — is easy to figure out when people consider where the straws are being distributed.
“You have to consider the service industry, schools, restaurants, foods, bars, cafes, hospitals,” she said. “That’s why we’re seeing such high numbers.”
The problem is relevant in the Capital Region, Peone added, because the area is home to many thriving culinary arts communities. She believes people can make a difference on an individual basis.
“For people who go out to eat a lot, they can tell their servers they would not like straws,” Peone said.
Diners can also bring their own straws, made of paper, steel or glass.
Peone also hopes people will consider recycling plastic bags; in addition to “handled” plastic bags common in supermarkets, Peone said “film” plastic such as produce bags, dry cleaning bags, bread wrappers, food storage bags, cereal bags (inside boxes) and newspaper wrapper bags all can be recycled.
Shopping bags and “film” plastic can be recycled in supermarket barrels used to collect plastic bags.
Roberta Farrell, who has worked in the local recycling movement for the past 15 years and is a board member at the Environmental Clearinghouse of Schenectady (ECOS) said people can be disgusted by all the plastic straws they see discarded at beaches.
Plastic is a bigger problem in the oceans.
“All our waterways funnel down into the ocean,” Farrell said. “When these plastics go into the water, they divide into little bits, they’re ingested by people, they’re ingested by organisms that filter the water and can’t filter [plastic] out. That becomes the fish that we eat.”
‘One person makes a difference’
A recent metal button distributed by the Environmental Clearinghouse of Schenectady — that does include some plastic — shows an artist’s rendition of the world encircled by a plastic straw. The message is “Go Green!”
Will Seyse, the clearinghouse president, believes straws aren’t the only problem. He said when people buy an ice cream cone, they can consume both cream and cone; the same ice cream ordered in a dish will come in a plastic dish and require a plastic spoon.
The dish and spoon can be recycled, Seyse said.
“Most people don’t,” he said. “Both end up as trash.”
Seyse is aware of anti-straw campaigns. “It’s an effort that seems to be getting traction this year,” he said, adding that he hopes Fecteau succeeds.
“We always say one person can make a difference,” he said.
Reach Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 518-395-3124 or at [email protected].