Ocean City Today

OC businesses, volunteers work on de-straw-ing shore

Studies show plastic litter real problem on beaches, takeout boxes other issue
By Brian Gilliland | Aug 10, 2017
Photo by: Josh Davis Bob Banach, organizer of weekly beach cleanups since January 2016, said during the course of normal trash gathering — generally at the ends of single streets, he could recover hundreds of plastic drinking straws from the sand.

(Aug. 11, 2017) Fast food drinks, mixed drinks, juice boxes, milkshakes, table service beverages, frozen drinks — most, if not all, of these are served somewhere in the resort and most, if not all, come with an accessory: a plastic drinking straw.

With some critics argue the number is too low and others remain convinced it’s too high, the most common number encountered for estimating drinking straw usage is in the U.S. is 500 million per day.

In Ocean City, situated on a barrier island surrounded on three sides by water and lined with bars, grills, restaurants and eateries of all shapes and sizes, plenty of the resort’s share of those straws and other plastics end up in the waterways.

Only so much can be done, as trash receptacles can overflow, garbage bags break, rain washes trash away and the wind can carry plastic away faster than an Olympic runner can sprint after it.

It’s been reported by several sources that 80 percent of debris found in the ocean comes from land, and 80 percent of that debris is made of plastic.

The Great Pacific garbage patch, discovered in 1988, is estimated to be the size of Texas at its smallest, and twice that at its largest. The depth and density of the debris makes accounting for its size difficult. It’s composed primarily of plastic, chemical sludge and other debris, according to National Geographic.

A recently released study by researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara and the University of Georgia concluded that 9.1 billion tons of plastic were produced globally since 1950, and up to 7 billion tons are no longer in use. But for the nine percent recycled and the additional 12 percent that has been incinerated, the rest — about 5.5 billion tons, is left lying around.

Bob Banach, organizer of weekly cleanups at selected beach locations every Tuesday since January 2016 in Ocean City, knows where at least some of the plastics, including several hundred drinking straws, end up.

“I hate plastic, I tell you what,” he said. “We easily find a couple of hundred straws per week, and after a big storm we get a heck of a lot.”

Banach said since the cleanups started, he and his ad hoc groups of volunteers have been picking up more and more trash on the beach.

“More Styrofoam, more plastic bags, cups,” he said. “There’s just too much money to be made making it all new.”

Some places in town have taken steps to mitigate straw use.

“You get a straw with your drink if you’re inside the property and on the sand, but not if you’re in the water,” Justin Grimes, manager at Seacrets, said. “If you’re having a frozen drink, you get one straw and you have to keep that one if you’re having another. We want as little plastic out there as possible.”

The Surfrider Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of the oceans, started a program to highlight what it calls ocean-friendly restaurants.

A restaurant must meet several mandatory criteria and a few optional requirements to be designated as an ocean-friendly restaurant. The mandatory requirements include no plastic foam use, proper recycling, reusable tableware and eliminating plastic bags for takeaway orders.

A restaurant may choose three of the following, in addition to the five mandatory restrictions, to earn the designation: plastic straws only on request, no beverages sold in plastic bottles, discounts for customers who use reusable mugs, vegetarian and vegan meal options, water conservation and LED lighting plus Energy Star rated appliances.

One restaurant earned this designation in the resort so far, Mother’s Cantina on 28th Street.

“It requires a commitment to adhere to the requirements, but it’s absolutely worth the effort,” Neely James, owner, said.

Especially the recycling requirement, because the resort doesn’t offer curbside pickup. James, and husband Ryan, use his 1999 Ford pickup to make recycling runs a couple of times per week in order to keep the designation.

“We’ve had a little pushback because we don’t offer straws unless they ask. At home, you don’t want one, but at restaurants it’s expected. Like anything else this is a slow-moving change in our culture,” James said.

The restaurant has signs inside the dining room and the menus explaining the policy.

“They help the customer understand, and it starts a conversation with the customers and staff, and also between the guests at the tables about the impact,” she said.

Another danger of plastics and straws is that the food and beverage residue on them make them seem like food sources for wildlife.

Banach, a professional photographer and owner of www.oceancitycool.com, has seen more than his share of animals trying to eat what they’re not able to digest.

“I have a lot of pictures of seagulls trying to eat bits of plastic — that stuff is everywhere,” he said.

Over in Wicomico, the Salisbury Zoo has outlawed straws from its eateries for similar reasons.

“Straws are easy to throw into exhibits, and the animals can eat them,” Mary Seeman, marketing and development director at the zoo, said. “It’d be nice if everyone got rid of straws.”

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