Catch of the Day

February 2, 2018

By Marla Schmidt

Welcome to my inaugural column.

I am writing this column to explore the many complexities of our reliance on plastic. My emphasis will be single-use plastic products that are created for convenience but that have devastating effects on our environment.

I will provide updates to my campaign to curtail the consumption of single-use plastic in Milwaukee starting with The Last Straw campaign that focuses on discontinuing the use of plastic straws.

The problem with plastic

Plastic is a durable material made to last a long time, yet 33 percent is used once and then discarded. Although biodegradable plastic is beginning to be found in the market, the vast majority of plastic is nonbiodegradable; it is photodegradable.

According to the website Pollution Solutions, “Photodegradation is the process by which a substance is altered via photons, especially those found in the wavelengths of the sun’s rays. Though photodegradation does eventually degrade plastic, this is a very slow and inefficient process.”

Plastic in the Earth’s water bodies often breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces that get ingested by marine and land animals and ends up in our food chain.

Recyclable plastic is coded with a numbering system that assigns a number between one and seven that denotes the type of plastic the object is made of. A spokesperson with Milwaukee’s recycling center said that only plastic numbered 1 or 2 are considered valuable. There is a lower demand for plastic numbered 3 through 7, and it is most often shipped overseas. At MMRF, plastic numbered as 1, 2, 4, or 5 are recycled — all others get sent to the landfill.

Americans discard more than 30 million tons of plastic a year and only 8 percent of it is recycled. The rest ends up in landfills or becomes litter on land and in water. A small portion is incinerated which means we are breathing the toxic gases that are released — dioxins, furans, mercury, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

This is only a portion of the trash Marla Schmidt collected on December 19, 2017. Although, much of it is recyclable plastic, it littered the beach along Lake Michigan in Bay View instead of being responsibly placed in a recycling bin. —Photo Jennifer Kresse

Why focus on straws?

The last plastic straw campaign is a project of Plastic Pollution Coalition. It isn’t opposed to all drinking straws, only the non-biodegradable plastic straws. Its goal is to create awareness about single-use plastic and the plastic drinking straw is its poster child.

Every day more than 500 million plastic straws are used and discarded in the U.S. alone. According to Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup data, plastic straws consistently make the Top 10 lists of items found on beaches and coastlines. In the last three years, plastic straws have climbed to the Number 5 spot on the list.

Straws are typically made of plastic types 2 and 5.

Most people don’t think about plastic straws and are shocked to learn that they are not recycled. Most straws are used for only a few minutes and then thrown in the trash, where they can end up in a landfill or in the environment for generations to come.

I personally have not made a habit of using straws. However, after spending last summer cleaning up plastic along Lake Michigan on South Shore Beach and noticing how much of it included drinking straws, it raised my awareness. And even though I never buy or request straws, there were many times one would automatically show up with or in my beverage. I find that I have to be proactive and always assume the server is going to give me a straw so I make sure to say that I don’t want a straw.

What’s next?

The Last Plastic Straw Campaign

I invite the owners of all bars, restaurants, and cafés in Bay View, and beyond, to be part of the movement to eliminate single-use plastic straws. Start simply by stating on your menus, table tents, or in-store signs: “Straws Available Upon Request.”Provide a straw only when requested by a customer. Invest in compostable or reusable straws as an alternative to plastic straws.

Stop sucking!

Individuals can become proactive by simply informing their server that they do not want a straw. If you visit an establishment that automatically provides straws, speak to them about it. If you prefer not to address the manager or owner directly, you can leave a small card, with information about the Plastic Straw campaign, with your check. Contact me to receive the template for these cards that you can easily print yourself.

Stay Informed!

Follow me on Facebook at CatchofthedayMKE. Check for regular progress updates at BayViewCompass.com and consult this column each month.

Businesses may contact me directly to become part of this movement in Milwaukee.

I can be reached at marla_schmidt@yahoo.com

When you patronize these Milwaukee businesses that have already taken the pledge to offer straws only upon request, thank them for their effort: Bowls, 207 W. Freshwater Way; Café LuLu, 2265 S. Howell Ave.; Juniper 61, 6030 W. North Ave.; Mistral. 2473 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.; and Sheridan’s, 5133 S. Lake Dr.

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