Due to environmental concerns, Carol Newington has been using reusable straws instead of disposable plastic ones for years.
Newington, a councillor in the City of Duncan, carries her reusable straws, which are usually bamboo or metal, in her purse to use when required to keep as many discarded plastic straws out of the environment as possible.
“I’ve been carrying my own straws for about seven years, and the city is now encouraging others to find alternatives to using disposable plastic straws as well,” she said.
One study published last year estimated as many as 8.3 billion plastic straws pollute the world’s beaches, with tonnes more added each year.
The utensils can pollute oceans, litter beaches and harm animals and humans.
As a result, many communities and companies around the world are now banning or restricting them.
In fact, the City of Vancouver has voted to totally ban the distribution of plastic straws as of June 1, 2019, as part of its Zero Waste 2040 strategy.
The City of Duncan also wants to curtail the use of plastic straws, but council decided at its recent meeting that it doesn’t want an outright ban on them until more information is considered.
A staff report by Allison Boyd, Duncan’s corporate services coordinator, cautioned against banning plastic straws until alternatives are agreed upon because of the many disabled people that rely on them for eating and/or drinking.
She said the city’s advisory committee on disability issues had discussed the use of paper and metal straws as an alternative to plastic, but felt that both are not useful for consuming hot liquids as many of the paper ones tend to disintegrate and the metal ones get too hot for the user.
“While the committee recognizes the use of plastic straws is harming the environment and that there is a need to reduce their use, the need for plastic straws for people with disabilities is great too,” Boyd said.
Newington, who is the chairwoman of the committee, said she will bring some examples of bamboo, metal and other reusable straws to the next council meeting so other council members can experience them first hand.
“We’re working on finding better solutions for disabled people than having to continue to use plastic straws,” she said.
Boyd said the committee recognizes that the city can still encourage people to reduce their use of plastic straws, while giving them the choice to use them if needed.
She said the federal government is expected to unveil an action plan to beat plastic pollution this summer.
“In the interim, staff believe that to reduce the use of individual plastic straws, more public awareness and education is required rather than outright bans,” she said.
Council decided at Monday’s meeting to direct staff to promote tips for reducing plastic straws and single-use plastics on the city’s social media page, website and newsletter, while educating on the need for limited use of plastic straws, particularly for people with disabilities.
In her report, Boyd also said people can make a personal commitment by requesting no straws when ordering drinks, and carrying reusable straws to use instead.
She suggested food establishments only serve plastic straws upon request, have reusable straws available and promote their businesses with how many plastic straws they no longer use.