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Study Links Consumer Choice Modification to Plastic Straw Reduction

Author:Zhengyang MachineryTimes:2019-02-26
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Much like other coastal communities around the country, plastic litter is a significant problem in San Luis Obispo, Calif. During a 2017 Coastal Cleanup Day in the city, 1,363 plastic straws/stirrers were collected, making them the 10th most collected item that day. Additionally, single-use straws and stirrers had been among the top items collected over previous annual coastal cleanup days.
 
Those statistics come from a study titled “Assessing the Use of Default Choice Modification to Reduce Consumption of Plastic Straws,” which is co-authored by Travis Wagner, a professor for the Department of Environmental Science & Policy at the University of Southern Maine. The focus of the study is based on a “plastic straw upon request only” ordinance in San Luis Obispo. The ordinance was passed in November 2017 and went into effect on March 1, 2018.
 
“As a global society, we are really rethinking single-use plastics, in part because of marine debris and National Sword,” explains Wagner. “It’s sending all these signals that something is going on, and we have to think about that. Because of minimal national and state action, municipality is taking up that mantel.”
 
The San Luis Obispo ordinance specifies that restaurants could no longer automatically hand out plastic straws to dine-in customers; straws may be provided, but only upon request. The ordinance does not apply to customers who purchase food to go or from food trucks, and self-serve straw dispensers were not prohibited.
 
To assess the impact of the plastic straw ordinance, Wagner and his team developed a nine-question survey that was hand-delivered to all 161 restaurants covered by the ordinance. The study was written based on 133 affected businesses that responded to the survey. Under the ordinance, the reported average decrease in straw consumption was 32 percent, and for restaurants not using a self-service straw dispenser, the average decrease was 41 percent.
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