Straws Are So Passé. What Comes Next?

Public Domain. MaxPixel

The time is ripe for more anti-plastic campaigns. Here's what you should tackle now.

Straws have gone from being accepted to abhorred in the span of a few years. Gone are the days when they were absent-mindedly stuck into every juice, soda, and cocktail that was served, and now there are signs in many restaurants stating that straws are no longer handed out. (One particularly vehement sign that our comments moderator sees at a local Florida restaurant reads, "Straws by request only and we will judge you for killing turtles.")

This changing tide of opinion has led major corporations to rewrite policies and redesign packaging. Cities and airlines have issued sweeping bans. Children are petitioning, celebrities are taking a stance, restaurant owners and politicians are listening, and – slowly but surely – change is happening.

This rapid shift is intriguing and exciting. It's rare that something galvanizes public action so quickly and thoroughly, and I do believe in this case it's because straws are so accessible; they're an easy problem to solve. When we hear about much bigger environmental issues, like CFCs, warming oceans and bleaching coral, flame retardants, endocrine-disrupting chemicals – the list goes on – there's a sense of helplessness. Straws, by contrast, are straightforward.

Now is the time to harness the anti-plastic momentum and keep it moving forward. We've tackled straws quite successfully, so what comes next? There are countless other sources of single-use plastic in our day-to-day lives that need to be addressed on a bigger scale – meaning, going beyond what we do at home. What follows is a list of ideas for campaigns you could undertake in your community or neighborhood, your workplace, or your child's school. Get friends and kids involved too. The more people who jump aboard this ship, the faster it's going to sail.

1. Plastic bags

Ask your local supermarket to consider phasing these out. Replace with paper bags, which serve the exact same function at a lower environmental cost. Better yet, ask the produce department to offer more loose options so you can bring your own bags. Ask for signage encouraging other shoppers to do the same. Hand out free homemade cloth produce bags one day.

2. Disposable coffee cups

The vast majority of coffee cups have a plastic lining that makes them unrecyclable. Approach local coffee shops and tell them about the reusable mug program in Freiburg, Germany, and the new startup in Boulder, CO, which uses stainless steel insulated mugs. Ask if they'd consider partnering with other restaurants and cafes in the neighborhood to do something similar. Suggest starting a collection box for ceramic mugs that people can take with them for free, if needed.

3. Vending machines

If you have a kid in school, this is a great place to work toward reduced plastic usage, as it teaches kids an important lesson. Ask the school to stop serving juice in single-use Tetra-Paks that can't be recycled and come with straws. Challenge the wisdom of having a vending machine on the premises that sells beverages in plastic. Ask teachers in younger grades to reconsider the craft supplies they use, such as glitter, which one UK daycare has banned.

4. Toothbrushes

Talk to your dentist about bamboo toothbrushes (or even recycled plastic ones) and whether they've ever thought about switching their post-appointment handouts to a more eco-friendly option. This can have a powerful carry-on effect in families who may buy the same brand once the old one is finished. (Read: 6 toothbrushes to keep your teeth clean and green)

5. A greener coffee hour

Do you work in an office with a shared coffee-making space, attend a church with coffee hour afterward, or work in the hospitality industry? Take the initiative to get plastic out of coffee breaks. Ask your employer to ditch the K-cup machine and foam cups.

6. Talk to the municipal government

City-wide policies can effect real change. See if town council would be interested in becoming an officially Zero Waste town. Argue that it makes them more attractive from a tourist standpoint and saves money on garbage disposal. Ask for a ban on all disposable, non-compostable food containers and cutlery, as has been done in France. Suggest the installation of water fountains or bottle-filling stations at main intersections, schools, libraries, and parks.

This is a smattering of ideas, but at least it offers a place to start. No one's pretending that any single campaign will change the world, but as straws have shown, it can have a surprisingly far-reaching effect if it hits people at the right time. And now, the time is ripe for anti-plastic campaigns, so do not underestimate the power of taking the initiative. You never know what can happen...