THE ISSUE

In the June 9 Sunday LNP, Mike Andrelczyk wrote about the steps people are taking to reduce dependence on single-use plastic straws. “There are companies addressing the plastic straw problem, and local restaurants and businesses are embracing eco-friendly solutions and raising awareness of alternatives to plastic straws,” he reported. A proposed state bill also would prohibit establishments from offering single-use plastic straws unless a customer specifically requests one.

We’re encouraged by Andrelczyk’s article because it tells us this issue is being taken seriously — by entrepreneurs, the public and legislators.

“A plastic straw is a small thing,” he wrote. “Small enough that some people laugh off the plastic straw bans imposed in cities across the country. But reducing waste begins with small steps, which could mean trying one of the many eco-friendly alternatives to plastic straws — such as paper straws, straws made from other biodegradable material and reusable straws made from bamboo or stainless steel — or forgoing straws altogether.”

We couldn’t agree more. And here’s why action is needed:

If it takes more than 100 years for one plastic straw to decompose, as experts estimate, and 300 million or so such straws are used and then discarded in the U.S. daily, the magnitude of the problem becomes pretty clear.

“No matter the exact figure, there are millions of plastic straws being thrown away every day,” Andrelczyk wrote. Many end up as litter and are found in the ocean or on the shore.

So the “humble plastic straw,” as Andrelczyk called it, is at the center of a fundamental debate: How do we save the planet?

In Lancaster County, used plastic straws must be placed in the trash.

“Locally, people should understand that the marine litter issue has more to do with poor waste management practices in other countries,” Kathryn Sandoe, chief commercial officer at Lancaster County Solid Waste Management Authority, told LNP.

But the authority encourages people “if possible, to not use plastic straws or try the reusable kind instead,” she said.

In Lancaster County, the authority will combust the trash, which includes straws, and make electricity from it.

“However, reducing our reliance upon single-use plastics is an important issue — locally, nationally and globally,” Sandoe told Andrelczyk. “People in Lancaster County can help make a difference by being mindful consumers.”

Among the legislative solutions proposed, by Delaware County Democrat Rep. Mary Jo Daley, is House Bill 1176, which would ban establishments from offering single-use plastic straws unless requested. Many people with disabilities depend on bendable plastic straws, so this keeps that option open. Daley’s bill is in the state House Commerce Committee.

In our April 22 Earth Day editorial, we endorsed this proposal, along with others that addressed such issues as polystyrene containers and organic waste composting. They are part of a package of bills known as the Zero Waste PA initiative.

Andrelczyk reported on what some local businesses are doing proactively regarding plastic straws.

The Rijuice stand at Lancaster Central Market offers Hay Straws — a drinking straw made from wheat stems. “They even work in coffee,” Chris Tamburro, sales associate with the cold-pressed juice company, told LNP.

“It’s not about straws specifically, but the amount of plastic waste we create,” Tamburro said. “It’s one small thing, but that’s the easiest way that anybody can help with an environmental issue — regardless of any political affiliation.”

The Horse Inn in Lancaster city is embracing Hay Straws, too.

“About three years ago, I started reading a lot about single-use plastic and how detrimental to our environment it was,” Starla Russell, one of the restaurant’s owners, told Andrelczyk. “We decided to make changes where we could. Straws and to-go containers were one of the big things that we had control over and could change. … We went to paper straws and a compostable straw made from corn. We have since dropped the compostable corn straws and went with a more fitting straw for the Horse: Hay Straws. When I found these, I knew it was a perfect fit for us.”

As Chris Steuer, sustainability director at Millersville University, told Andrelczyk, “Plastic straws don’t necessarily make up a large share of the plastic waste stream, but they are something tangible that we encounter every day that reminds us how easily we dispose of things that will last for hundreds of years after only using them once.”

Last summer, Millersville University decided to transition from plastic straws to a biodegradable paper straws. By March, the university had phased out plastic straws in all its campus dining locations.

“It’s a small change that we made to reduce unnecessary waste,” Ed Nase, director of dining and conference services at Millersville University, told LNP. “And to demonstrate to our students that we’re thinking about their future.”

We applaud Rijuice, the Horse Inn, Millersville University and other businesses and institutions that are taking steps to curtail or ban single-use plastic straws. We strongly urge others to follow their lead.

Earth is the only planet we have. As of right now, there’s no backup planet we can move to, so we must all do our part to be better stewards of this one.