Admit it. Even when it’s the right thing to do, some bans of single-use plastic are harder to take than others.
Right now, the state of California is considering the first state law in the nation to ban tiny toiletries, the kind prized by travelers the world over who return home with bottles of shampoo, conditioner and lotion provided as amenities by hotels. No more swiping extra shampoos or conditions from hotel room service carts. No more tiny bottles that fit in a purse. No more disposables, with these miniature bottles (perhaps) going the way of plastic grocery bags and straws.
It’s past time.
One piece of California legislation seeks to eliminate single-use plastic bottles at hotels and other hospitality establishments. The state already has banned single-use plastic bags, and New York also agreed on a retail bag ban in March. Another bill this session in California would ban single-use plastics entirely by 2030. As we all know, as goes California, so goes the nation. Eventually.
The bans are growing more prevalent as the citizens of the world see photographs of plastic items in dead sea animals or piled up in dumps across the nation. In Santa Fe, we have banned single-use plastic bags and some restaurants are voluntarily reducing the use of plastic straws. Cities and counties across the country have enacted similar legislation, although the efforts are not broad enough.
After all, the globe generated 242 million tons of plastic waste in 2016, according to the World Bank. It’s a crisis that won’t be fixed simply by individuals changing habits — we need action by government to tackle the proliferation of plastics. That has happened in other nations, with plastic bag bans in some 32 countries around the world, nearly half in Africa. In the U.S., only two states have banned the bags, with most action taking place closer to the local level. That could be changing, though.
Last week, U.S. Senator Tom Udall, along with U.S. Rep. Alan Lowenthal of California, called on President Donald Trump to mobilize the federal government to address the threat that plastic waste poses to human health, public budgets, and to the sustainability of our waterways, oceans, and entire planet.
The biggest problem is single-use plastics, such as the kind used for hotel toiletries, straws and bags. Each year, some 8 million tons of plastic ends up in the oceans, with that number expected to double by 2030. This isn’t just a pollution problem for oceans, Udall pointed out in his statement on the crisis. The plastic waste is leaving behind chemicals at the nanoparticle level, polluting landfills and posing risks to humans. There’s also the burden to local municipalities tasked with recycling or disposing of plastics.
Udall wants the federal government to combine its resources to attack the problem of the plastic life-cycle, attacking the pollution crisis locally and globally from both a human health standard and the need to protect oceans. He is right that all hands need to be on deck to reverse the crisis.
While that happens, we individuals can say no to plastic straws, drink water in refillable bottles and find ways to enjoy takeout without plastics. Ask restaurants if there are other ways to package to-go meals. Buy forks and knives for the office that can be washed so you don’t need plasticware. Cities and states can consider other bans on single-use plastics, including the ubiquitous water bottle. We can stop using, then tossing. For the sake of the oceans and for our own health, change needs to happen.