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A Turning Point in NYC's Fight for Ocean Health

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Shawn Heinrichs

By Emy Kane

The introduction of bill No. 936 by New York City Councilman Rafael Espinal, Jr. marks a veritable tipping point in the spread of single-use plastic straw bans across the globe. From Taiwan to Portland, the city-wide takeover our team began with our Strawless in Seattle campaign has certainly taken off and created a global movement not only of citizens but also elected officials taking action to protect their waterways and their environments.


The plastic pollution crisis is tremendous and difficult to understand. I am often posed with questions such as, "How did we get here?" and "What can one person do to make a difference?" When my team and I at Lonely Whale considered the best way to reduce plastic pollution and protect marine life—and human health—eliminating single-use plastic straws was a natural starting point. After all, the single-use plastic straw is the one thing that connects each of us together every single day, and which for many of us there is a readily available and easily implemented solution—just stop using them.

This bill, introduced by Councilman Espinal Jr., is a critical next step in the global movement for an ocean free from plastic. Imagine this—one metric tonne of plastic enters our ocean every four seconds. One metric tonne every four seconds. That's a lot of plastic. I can guarantee 0% of it belongs in the ocean. And, the volume of waste and subsequent damage is not on the decline—it continues to rise every day.

If we don't change our habits now, most of us—and certainly our children—will live to see the day when there is more plastic in the ocean than fish.

At Lonely Whale, we recognize that we can't solve this single-use plastic pollution problem alone. It cannot be overstated that this movement must be both diverse and inclusive. In particular, it is critical that we recognize and lift up the voices of our friends, neighbors and loved ones in the disability community and those that are underserved and underrepresented in the environmental discussion to date. As demonstrated with Bill No. 936, ensuring access to single-use plastic straw alternatives that meet the needs of those who require a straw to drink something even as simple as water must be a part of all plastic straw legislation.

It's critical that we include ALL voices, ALL industries and ALL communities as we come together in support of this important first step to protect our environment and, ultimately, ourselves.

While saving our ocean will take much more than a ban on plastic straws, we must start somewhere. Making the transition away from single-use plastic straws is an easy first step, as demonstrated by the citizens and businesses who have already embraced this movement, opting for marine friendly alternatives.

We have already seen leadership from corporations such as McDonalds in the UK, Tom Colicchio's Crafted Hospitality, Alaska Airlines, Live Nation Entertainment, IKEA, Dell and, most recently, Brooklyn's very own BSE Global (including Barclay's Center, home of the Brooklyn Nets). These global brands have each opted to pre-empt policy with bold announcements to transition their single-use plastic straws to marine friendly alternatives (or going "strawless!") and, perhaps more importantly, to empower their customers and their fans.

However, our work is only just beginning. We must continue to expand policy along with increased attention and support of the corporate social responsibility actions taken worldwide. With the passing of proposed bill No. 936, we would eliminate an approximately 16 million plastic straws (2 per person) from the city every single day. Market-ready marine friendly plastic straw alternatives exist as do viable options that ensure accessibility for our allies in the disability community. This is our fight to #StopSucking, start saving our planet and ensure a future with clean seas.

Emy Kane is the Digital Strategist at Lonely Whale where she leads all online content and strategy, including spearheading Lonely Whale's #StopSucking social media challenge.

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