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Banning Straws Won’t Save our Planet; But Changing Attitudes Just Might

August 2, 2018

Already following the plastic straw ban in Seattle,  Washington we’ve seen Disney, Starbucks, and several other companies come forward with similar bans. And while we applaud the efforts of these companies as they continue their “journey of environmental stewardship” (in the words of Disney), we need to remind ourselves what the real problem is that we’re trying to solve.

The truth is that plastic straws are estimated to be a mere 0.03 percent of ocean plastic waste. While straws have enormous potential to cause harm to wildlife, the real concern regarding ocean waste is the huge amount of abandoned fishing debris (estimated to be 46% of all ocean waste) as well as the huge volumes of plastic bags and plastic bottles creating floating islands of debris all over the world. In reality, our consumer attitudes towards the convenience of single-use items and our misplaced belief that we can compost or recycle our way out of this eco-dystopia, is really the more substantive issue.

That’s why I was so impressed to be included in the team working on the Sustainability Program for the Special Olympics 2018 USA Games held in Seattle earlier this month. Once again, a mega-sporting event (4,000 athletes, 14,000 volunteers, nearly 100,000 spectators) demonstrated that it’s the sustainability legacy that matters just as much and probably far more, than the impact of ‘greening’ initiatives. Listen to this school teacher from Oklahoma in the associated video– her story confirms that by attending the Games, being exposed to the Sustainability Program, and being inspired by the greening activities (even straw bans) means that she’s changed her attitude. Even more significantly, she’ll be taking home these inspirations to share with school kids and others – with enormous potential impact on progression!

So, we encourage corporate groups to continue their efforts to reduce their eco-impacts and transition to a more circular form of economy. No doubt every little bit helps. But let’s remember what really matters – capturing the hearts and minds of everyone around us to make those small and big shifts that can really tilt the difference to a sustainable future.

 

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