Gainesville Tells Plastic Straws to ‘Suck It’

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard about Gainesville’s plastic straw ban. Evidently, I had because I only found out when I returned to Gainesville after winter break. Paper straws were thrown my way at restaurants, or they offered no straw at all.

This change was decided way back in August by the City Commission and just started being enforced on January 1. The commission hopes this measure will reduce Gainesville’s waste and help protect animals from litter. The ban not only covers single-use plastic straws but stirrers too (sorry, Starbucks). It seems Gainesville has been working hard towards its goal of being completely waste-free by 2040, especially with 20,000 tons of residential garbage collected for recycling and $70,000 in disposal costs saved in 2018.

With 500 million straws being used daily in the U.S., the straw ban is definitely a good idea. Especially with plastic’s terrible properties that don’t allow it to degrade naturally, it’s essential we start producing less waste. While we don’t see some of the effects here in Gainesville, our hometowns and possible future homes are losing their oceans to mounds of plastic. An estimated 8 to 11 tons of plastic is dumped into our oceans each day. I don’t know about you, but I want to be able to sip pina coladas on a pristine beach when I retire, not on Mount Plastic.

However, the straw ban does have its drawbacks. While disabled persons can still request a straw and the ban does not apply to hospitals or similar care settings, the disabled community will still feel its effects. Requesting a straw is a burden the disabled community should not have to bear, especially if it means having to explain a complicated condition to waiters or food shops just to be able to take a sip of their drink.

There also seems to currently be no viable alternatives to plastic straws for the disabled community. Paper straws become too mushy to use after a short amount of time. Metal straws are too hard and dangerous, especially after the tragic death of a disabled woman who fell while using it. Not to mention how hot or cold metal straws can get if the drink isn’t room temperature or the amount of care that goes into keeping a metal straw for a person who already struggles with mobility.

Other alternatives are either too expensive or require too much mobility to use. As you can see from the chart on Creaky Joints (linked above), the only straw option that has no drawbacks for the disabled community are plastic “bendy” straws. After all, that was their first intended use anyway. While Gainesville’s straw ban is a step in the right direction, more accessibility for the disabled community to better alternatives or easier access to plastic ones should be addressed.

This is especially the case since plastic straws make up a tiny fraction of the plastic that enters the world’s oceans. While individuals can certainly clean up their waste habits, the majority of pollution comes from companies and large corporations. A greener method for manufacturing processes would be more revolutionary than if everyone started using metal straws.

Instead of blaming it all on American society’s waste habits (which are still terrible compared to other cultures), corporations also need to take some blame and start addressing their own contributions. One way students can address this is to buy from companies who use greener business practices and raise awareness on social media platforms.

Other things students can do now to help the environment is to cut down on their waste. Rather than throwing away notebooks after a class is over, recycle them or switch to electronic note-taking methods. Students can also use reusable grocery bags on their Target runs so they don’t fill up plastic bags with their steals from the dollar aisle.

Speaking of cheap goodies, don’t buy into fast fashion, and invest in better quality to promote longevity of products. You can even kill two birds with one stone and save money on utilities by timing your water usage and turning off lights when you don’t need them.

Some smaller and easier changes to make are:

  1. Use a reusable water bottle on campus, like any of these.
  2. Take the bus or carpool instead of driving yourself. (for the UF RTS website, click here.)
  3. Buy separate bins for trash, paper recyclables and cans/ plastic to make recycling easier.
  4. Invest in a metal reusable straw.
  5. Switch your old plastic toothbrush for a bamboo toothbrush or an electric one with replaceable heads.

While some of these changes will make you feel like a "VSCO" girl, they are all good steps to take to lower waste and protect the environment. While these may not make as big of an impact, every little bit counts. Especially with the straw ban now in effect, who knows what great things Gainesville has in store for further protecting our environment. I just hope that with more environmental progress comes more inclusivity of the disabled community and accountability on the part of big business/corporations.