On July 5, Thursday, Senator Risa Hontiveros filed Senate Bill No. 1866, also known as the Plastic Straw and Stirrer Ban of 2018. Its passage will effectively prohibit the use of plastic straws, stirrers, and other non-biodegradable materials in restaurants, as well as require food establishments to put up display signs informing their customers of their “no plastic straw and stirrer” policy.
The bill is part of an effort to mitigate the world’s worsening marine plastic pollution problem, to which the Philippines is a major contributor. In the same document detailing the proposed ban, it was revealed that the Philippines is the third biggest contributor of plastic wastes in the world’s oceans—just slightly behind top offenders China and Indonesia.
They’re non-essential items, yet the daily use thereof has amounted to a problem that’s deeply troubling. In a single day, more than half a billion plastic straws are used, making these items the 11th most found ocean trash in 2017. According to National Geographic, it’s anticipated that by 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the sea.
The problem of plastic pollution can no longer be ignored, except contemporary life is structured in a way that feeds the said problem while simultaneously concealing it. Plastic is ubiquitous in consumerism (almost synonymous to it, in fact), and it takes a lot of conscious effort to realize that there is something wrong with that easy association. It is as much a hidden problem as it is a serious one: When we use plastic, we don’t see ourselves as contributors to the growing garbage patches in our oceans. But the statistics should no longer be ignored or downplayed. Currently, the largest garbage patch in our oceans has accumulated to about 79,000 tons of plastic debris. According to Sen. Hontiveros’ bill, this amount spans 1.6 million square kilometers—that’s twice the size of France.
A major component of that patch of waste is plastic straws. They’re non-essential items, yet the daily use thereof has amounted to a problem that’s deeply troubling. In a single day, more than half a billion plastic straws are used, making these items the 11th most found ocean trash in 2017. According to National Geographic, it’s anticipated that by 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the sea.
THE ROLE OF CORPORATE INITIATIVES
The ever-increasing rate of plastic straw use has thus been the subject of recent environmental advocacies among activists and industry leaders. Recent developments in the travel industry, for instance, are looking into the total prohibition of single-use plastics in resorts, hotels, airlines, and cruise lines. Travel agencies like the Mountain Company are banking on the goodwill of its clients—asking each one to pick up a kilogram of garbage should they be traveling in places like India or Nepal. Other initiatives by travel agencies include the introduction of holidays designed to encourage customers to quit plastic.
Though far from revolutionary (companies like Soneva have been banning plastic use as early as 1998), these policies are an indication of a strong global movement against plastic pollution. It’s a movement that’s not to be underestimated considering that at its helm are corporations—arguably the biggest offenders in this sphere of socio-environmental concern.
PLASTIC IN THE FOOD INDUSTRY
It’s no coincidence that the Plastic Straw and Stirrer Ban of 2018 targets food establishments. It was specifically designed for this particular industry because of the sheer amount of plastic it uses. In the UK alone, McDonald’s uses 1.8 million plastic straws a day, leading environmental groups and even the European Union to pressure the corporation to phase out plastic straws.
In March 2018, McDonald’s announced that it will soon stop using plastic straws in all its 1,361 branches in the UK. The corporation is currently testing out paper alternatives to the straws, and will begin using them by September. Other prominent names in fast food have since followed suit, with the likes of Starbucks currently devising alternatives in their packaging.
There has long been a seed of environmental consciousness in both producer and consumer behaviors, but it’s in these past few years that we’ve seen it bloom into something more substantial and widespread, and the enactment of official state policies and the passage of bills can help further that development.
Restaurants, too, are taking part in this long overdue and necessary initiative. In Seattle, plastic utensils are no longer used in bars and restaurants. Smaller cities in California are also doing the same. But as in the travel industry, the restaurant industry’s efforts in pushing for sustainability and zero-waste is not limited to banning plastic. The pop-up The Drought Kitchen operates on the idea of minimum water usage, serving its food on disposable cards so as to avoid having to wash dishes. There’s also the imposition of plastic bag taxes and a “latte levy” in some dining establishments in the UK.
Again, while these policies are not particularly groundbreaking (at least in terms of the novelty of the methods), something has to be said about the growing scale and pace at which they are being enacted. We likely could not have predicted decades ago that the banning of plastic in fast food chains were to be the subject of a continent-wide order by the European Union, or that there would be companies created specifically for the distribution of sustainable packaging.
There has long been a seed of environmental consciousness in both producer and consumer behavior, but it’s in these past few years that we’ve seen it bloom into something more substantial and widespread, and the enactment of official state policies and the passage of bills can help further that development. That major corporations like McDonald’s have acted upon an environmental concern due to institutional pressure is testament to what a bill that aims to ban plastic straws can do for the local food and beverage industry.
It’s not our country’s first bill dedicated to addressing an environmental issue, but with a specific subject (the use of plastic straws at food establishments) at its core, there is a clearer, sharper focus here: to hold accountable stakeholders in the food industry.
And, given the heft of an institutional order, an environmental advocacy (otherwise dismissed and downplayed) will finally be given the attention it has long deserved.
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