August 14, 2018
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Refuse a plastic straw, but then take bigger steps to help the planet

Jeff Chiu | AP
Jeff Chiu | AP
This July 17, 2018 photo shows wrapped plastic straws at a bubble tea cafe in San Francisco. Eco-conscious San Francisco joins the city of Seattle in banning plastic straws, along with tiny coffee stirrers and cup pluggers, as part of an effort to reduce plastic waste. It also makes single-use food and drink side items available upon request and phases out the use of fluorinated wrappers and to-go containers.

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Plastic straws have been demonized lately. Children and environmental groups have called for bans, and companies and communities have reacted. Seattle and several California cities, including San Francisco, have banned plastic straws, and beverage giant Starbucks will end its use of straws in 2020. Portland has banned the use of plastic straws in its city hall cafe.

Now that many Americans are focused on pollution and environmental damage, they should take actions that will really make a difference.

Marine pollution is a significant problem. Scientists estimate that 150 million metric tons of plastic are estimated to be floating in the world’s oceans. Each year, another 8 million metric tons are added. Nearly 90 percent of it has come from Asia. North and Central America are responsible for only 1 percent of global plastic marine debris, and straws are a tiny fraction of this pollution.

This doesn’t mean that Americans shouldn’t reduce our use of plastics. But banning plastic straws is more symbolic than impactful. We shouldn’t go overboard with straw bans and shaming because many Americans with disabilities and limited mobility rely on them for their daily survival.

By all means, skip the straw at a restaurant or at home. Then, take one of these steps to have a bigger positive impact on our environment.

Drive less. Leaving your car at home two days a week will reduce emissions of climate change causing greenhouse gas emissions by 2 tons a year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. You’ll also save money at the gas pump.

When you do drive, keep your tires properly inflated. Under inflated tires reduce fuel economy by 3 percent and increases the emissions of pollutants.

Buying a more fuel-efficient vehicle will reduce gasoline consumption, save you money and lower carbon emissions. It will also slow demand for fossil fuels, which, in the long term, could reduce pressure to drill for oil and gas, improving the planet in terms of land and ocean that isn’t despoiled by drilling and by slowing the growth in carbon emissions.

Consumer demand for fuel-efficient vehicles will become increasingly important as the Trump administration lowers national fuel economy standards and is now working to nix California’s authority to set higher standards, which much of the country, including Maine, follows.

Use less water. Treating, pumping and heating water requires energy, which is mostly generated from sources that burn fossil fuels and emit carbon pollution. Not running the water while brushing your teeth and shaving are easy steps to reduce water use. Using tap water and reusable bottles instead of bottled water reduces energy consumption and plastic waste.

Some water use is unintentional. A leaky toilet can waste 200 gallons of water per day, the EPA warns. Running the dishwasher when it is not full raises carbon emissions and wastes money.

Change your lightbulbs. Light bulbs with the ENERGY STAR label reduce energy consumption by up to 90 percent. They last longer, too, and save money. ENERGY STAR appliances will also reduce energy consumption and save money, as does maintaining heating and cooling equipment and insulating your home and sealing leaks.

The EPA provided these and other tips on its website. However, the agency’s website is being revamped and a section on what individual Americans can do about climate change is no longer easily accessible. This is just another example of the Trump administration’s disregard for improving the environment and addressing climate change.

There are numerous other things you can do to improve the planet — recycle, compost and eat less meat. One of the most important is to speak out. Especially with an administration that doesn’t care about pollution and climate change, citizens must demand action at the state and local level. Voting for candidates who believe in reducing pollution and emissions is also important.

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