The ancient Sumerians, in creating the first straw, probably rejoiced at their ingenuity. But thousands of years later, straws are made of plastic, and they pose a danger to marine life.
They have ended up in the noses of turtles, leading to, when humans intervene to help, painful removals. The animals often mistake plastic bags and straws for food, which can lead to blockages, infections and death.
StrawFree.org, based in Huntington Beach, is seeking to have plastic straws eliminated and replaced with ones made out of bamboo. The organization harvests the bamboo from volunteers around Huntington Beach and repurposes it into reusable straws.
The year-old organization is specifically focusing on Huntington Beach because its culture is intrinsically linked to the ocean, said Benjamin Green, director of operations for the group. But rather than aiming to outright change public policy — the group isn't working on City Council members to initiate a ban — it is trying to modify the culture surrounding plastics in the city, he said.
Its seven members do this through educational outreach programs in schools, colleges and festivals. The group hands out the bamboo straws to people at these events and to restaurants to test the product. The straws are also sold on its website.
Green said the best way to move the culture away from plastics is to start with straws, because they are more of a "luxury" item.
He said most restaurants will give a customer a plastic straw without a thought.
Alicia Whitney, owner of Sea Legs Wine Bar at 21022 Beach Blvd., said Thursday that the restaurant is working on its own to stem straw use by providing them to customers only when requested. She said she is motivated to keep the environment clean.
"As a Huntington Beach company, and one that has concessions at Bolsa Chica State Beach, we are committed to taking care of our beaches and making sure our environment is preserved for many generations to come," she said.
When asked about the possibility of using bamboo straws, Whitney said the restaurant has "not explored other options at this point."
Green said the group chose bamboo because its shape is conducive to sipping and it is a highly sustainable product that requires very few nutrients to grow.
Even though the issue is not on the table, Councilman Mike Posey said Wednesday that he would not be in favor of a straw ban. Posey led the charge on a repeal of the plastic bag ban in 2015 and said he would view this the same way.
The council at the time voted 6 to 1 in favor of the repeal, with the only dissenter being Councilwoman Jill Hardy, who was mayor at the time. Posey said he doesn't think the straw ban would ever gain traction with this council because many of the current members voted against the bag repeal.
"The government doesn't have business banning safe and legal products," Posey said.
Posey said it's up to the consumers and restaurants to choose if they want to curb their plastic straw use.
Hardy said Thursday she couldn't say how she would vote on a straw ban before she could investigate all the facts. She said she couldn't imagine the issue being brought up to the council because of the success of the plastic bag repeal vote.
Meanwhile, Green vows to continue his educational mission. He said about 100,000 animals die a year from plastic consumption and that Americans use about 500 million plastic straws a day. He also pointed out the gyres of plastic in the ocean in stressing the urgency he feels.