President Trump does not understand why plastic straws have become the boogeyman of some businesses and Democratic-led cities that have sought to ban their use entirely.
"I do think we have bigger problems than plastic straws," he told reporters Friday. "You have a little straw, but what about the plates, the wrappers and everything else that are much bigger and they’re made of the same material?"
But pollution experts say there's a reason straws are sucking up so much attention: They can become particularly pernicious pieces of waste. And they're often easily replaceable with other alternatives.
First, there's the size. Straws are supposed to be thin and lightweight. But that means they are more likely than heavier pieces of plastic to be blown out of trash cans or to fall out of holes in the bottom of garbage bags — and end up in waterways instead of in landfills.
"Because of how they're purposely designed, they can be easily lost in the marine environment," said Nancy Wallace, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Marine Debris Program.
It's for that reason, too, that makes plastic straws difficult to recycle, even though many are made of a kind of plastic called polypropylene that sometimes is recyclable. Recycling facilities have a hard time processing pieces of plastic so small that they can fall off conveyer belts.
"In fact, some recycling facilities will not even accept plastic straws because they can't do anything with them," said Sam Athey, a doctoral student studying microplastics at the University of Toronto.
Trump gets one thing right: Banning all single-use plastic straws would take just a small sip out of the ocean's overall plastic problem. Put that cringeworthy viral video of a plastic straw being pulled from a sea turtle’s nostril aside. Only about 7,500 of 713,000 — or a little over 1 percent — of items collected on U.S. shores in a NOAA monitoring program between mid-2012 and today were plastic straws.
And even though Trump's Environmental Protection Agency chief, Andrew Wheeler, has identified reducing ocean trash as a top international priority, he has said that banning plastic straws would be "a drop in the bucket, in terms of the amount of plastic."
"I’m concerned that if people think, ‘Well if I get rid of my plastic straw, then that solves the problem,' ” Wheeler said last month in an interview with The Post.
But part of the point of pulling plastic straws out of iced lattes, advocates say, is to raise awareness of how much the rest of our lives have become wrapped up in single-use plastics. "Plastic straw bans can and should be starting points to further tackle plastic pollution and challenge the throwaway culture," said Perry Wheeler, a senior communications specialist at Greenpeace. "Straw bans will never solve the plastic pollution crisis on their own, though, which is why we push companies to take a more comprehensive approach to reducing their plastic footprint."
And among the cornucopia of plastic bottles and Styrofoam cups, plastic straws are relatively easy to replace with paper or metal alternatives or give up. "They're definitely not the No. 1 item that we find, but they are there," Wallace said. "And I think for a lot of cities and towns, it's an item that — some people certainly do need a straw, there's people with disabilities that will need a straw — but generally many people can do without it."
Still, according to the laws of politics at this particularly charged moment, for every political push, there is an equal but opposite counter-push.
As concern over plastic straws has metastasized from the #StopSucking Internet hashtag, to commitments from brands such as Starbucks and Ikea, and bans in liberal cities like Washington and Seattle, there's a conservative groundswell against giving them up. They are eschewing the paper-made alternatives in a rejection of what they see as liberal overreach.
The Trump campaign capitalized on this trend by selling a pack of straws branded with the president's name a a way to swirl outrage among his voters and suck up a little campaign cash at the same time.
“Liberal paper straws don’t work,” the campaign site wrote. “STAND WITH PRESIDENT TRUMP and buy your pack of recyclable straws today.”
The result: By Monday, the campaign raised over $200,000 by selling more than 140,000 straws, according to a tweet from Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale.
— Senators (including Republicans) question EPA’s FOIA rule: A bipartisan group of senators is calling on the Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider its new rule that would allow political appointees to assess requests and withhold documents requested via the Freedom of Information Act. The letter to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler also questions the agency’s decision to proceed with the rule without allowing for public comment. “While we appreciate the agency’s commitment to updating its regulations in response to recent FOIA amendments, the rule purports to make numerous changes to the EPA’s FOIA process that appear to run contrary to the letter and spirit of FOIA, thus undermining the American people’s right to access information from the EPA,” wrote Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and John Cornyn (R-Tex.). “At minimum, we urge you to at least provide additional transition time to ensure that the public and requesters are fully aware of the nature and impact of these policy changes.”
— 2020 candidate introduces a bill to address drinking water crisis: Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) has proposed a bill that aims to provide safe and affordable drinking water across the country, and particularly for vulnerable communities. The “Water Justice Act” would invest almost $200 billion in clean drinking water programs, including $50 billion to communities and schools with contaminated water for resources such as contamination testing, the Associated Press reports. The bill would also include a drinking water infrastructure emergency declaration, and would create a $10 billion program that would help pay for water bills in low-income communities and households with environmental risks.
— Rhode Island wins ruling to keep climate suit in state: A federal judge ruled that a climate liability case can continue to be tried in Rhode Island, dealing a blow to the oil and gas companies that wanted the case heard in what could have been a friendlier-setting: federal court. “The ruling will allow Rhode Island prosecutors to continue to bring charges against 21 oil and gas producers including Chevron, Shell and BP as the state tries to get the companies to help pay for damages caused by climate change,” the Hill reports.
— Oil watch: The turmoil in the Middle East has been a boon for U.S. shale producers, as oil fields and tankers in the United States are in part filling a gap amid concerns about the world’s oil supply, the Wall Street Journal reports. Supply concerns worsened after Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps seized two British-connected oil tankers on Friday and after exports from the largest oil field in Libya were halted over the weekend. “Incidents in the Persian Gulf over the past few months have yet to have a sustained effect on oil prices,” per the report. “The muted reaction belies the severity of the situation and signals that the market believes the U.S. will pick up the slack in the event that war breaks out in the Middle East, said oil analysts at RBC Capital Markets in a note to investors Sunday.”
— Up in flames: Philadelphia Energy Solutions has filed for bankruptcy protection weeks after it announced it would shutter the Philadelphia refinery site that was damaged after an explosion and fire erupted in June. “Following the June 21 explosions and blaze, PES started shutting down the 335,000 barrel-per-day Philadelphia plant without a planned restart. Some 1,000 workers are being laid off,” Reuters reports.
- The House Homeland Security on Emergency Preparedness, Response and Recovery holds a hearing on “Assessing Emergency Preparedness for Underserved Populations."
- The Senate Commerce, Science, Transportation Subcommittee on Science, Oceans, Fisheries and Weather holds a hearing on America’s waterfronts.
- The House Budget Committee holds a hearing on climate change costs on Wednesday.
- The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change holds a hearing on decarbonizing the economy on Wednesday.
- The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources hold a hearing renewable energy on public lands on Thursday
— The condor claws back: The California condor — the largest flying bird in North America — is back from the brink of extinction. “In 1982, when just 22 California condors were left in the world and the species’ obituary was being written in advance, scientists captured the remaining population to breed the scavenger birds in captivity,” The Post’s Reis Thebault reports. “Nearly four decades later, a consortium of government agencies and nonprofit groups announced a miraculous milestone: 1,000 California condor chicks hatched since the official rescue program began.”