Last June I had the pleasure of eating at a lovely little restaurant in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, that had taken the quietly radical step of getting rid of single-use plastic straws.
On each table was a small card explaining that the restaurant no longer provides customers with plastic straws because they're bad for the earth. Patrons could request reusable metal straws, and several members of my party did.
If I learned anything from this experience, it's that plastic straws are not an essential part of eating out. Most diners can get along just fine without them, and there are alternatives for those who can't.
The anti-straw movement has been gaining steam over the past year, with a growing number of cities, restaurants and businesses electing to ban straws.
On Monday, Schenectady jumped into the fray, with City Council members Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas and John Polimeni calling for a city-wide ban on plastic straws and beverage stirrers.
This is a fine idea, and while it's only a small step toward addressing the gigantic problem of plastic waste, you've got to start somewhere.
I give Zalewski-Wildzunas and Polimeni credit for good timing.
They announced their proposal on a morning when I was feeling especially down on plastic, having just read a New Yorker article from January detailing the astonishing amount of plastic polluting the earth and seas.
"By the mid-nineteen-sixties, 15 million tons of plastic were being produced every year," the article, by Carolynn Korman, states. "By 2015, the annual total was nearly 30 times greater. Of all the plastic waste ever created, only about nine percent has been recycled. Seventy-nine percent rests, forgotten, in landfills, dumps, forests, rivers and the ocean."
Banning plastic straws and beverage stirrers will barely make a dent in this massive, decades-long accumulation of non-biodegradable plastic garbage.
But that doesn't mean it doesn't have value.
Changing our attitude toward plastic is of utmost importance, and a ban on straws and beverage stirrers, combined with the state's new plastic bag ban, will force us to rethink our relationship with a material that kills millions of marine animals every year and despoils our beaches, forests, cities and towns.
Simply put, we need to use less plastic -- and to use products that are better for the earth and all of its creatures.
This won't be easy, as plastic is ubiquitous and convenient and a crucial ingredient in many of the items we use in everyday life.
But it's something that needs to be done if we want to live in a cleaner and more sustainable world. Right now, we live in a society where most products are cheap and disposable, and it's got to change.
Straws are a good vehicle for change, because we don't really need them.
Yes, there are exceptions.
Straws are a tool many disabled people rely upon, as do some adults and children.
If we ban straws, we need to make sure there are good alternatives whenever possible, or that the law permits eateries to provide plastic straws to people who need them.
As an essay on the food website Eater by Alicia Wong observed, "Plastic is seen as cheap, 'anti-luxury,' wasteful and harmful to environment. All true. Plastic is also an essential part of my health and wellness. With my neuromuscular disability, plastic straws are necessary tools for my hydration and nutrition."
Schenectady should take these concerns into account when drafting its anti-straw legislation.
Overall, though, the intent of the legislation is good.
As I observed to a colleague, plastic is terrible for the environment and we ought to do what we can to get rid of it.
Of course, I was holding a Styrofoam coffee cup with a plastic lid in my hand as I said these things.
Clearly, I have a lot of work to do to reduce my own consumption of wasteful products. But I'm ready to do it, and I suspect that giving up straws will be fairly easy.
Reach Gazette columnist Sara Foss at [email protected]