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Environment & Energy Report

Plastic Straws Strike Out at the Ballpark

July 18, 2018, 3:45 PM

You can still buy your peanuts and Cracker Jack, but the next time you head out to the ballgame you might not be able to get a straw.

More than 8 million metric tons of plastic items enter the ocean every year, according to a 2015 study. Several cities and states across the country already have banned single use plastic bags in an effort to curb plastic pollution and now straws are in the crosshairs. Having already taken a hard look at their waste, some major leagues sports teams and concert venues want to lead by example.

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson served as an unofficial spokesman for the city’s movement, joining environmental group Lonely Whale in collaborating with about 200 retailers in tackling plastic straws.

The Strawless in Seattle campaign effectively removed more than 2 million single-use plastic straws from the city in about a month. Seattle banned plastic straws in July, and other cities are following suit.

“Sports teams are a critical cultural pillar in the global movement For A Strawless Ocean because sports teams are an extension of a fan’s persona, a mirror for their values, and their connection to a global community,” Dune Ives, executive director of Lonely Whale, told Bloomberg Environment.

The Last Straw

Among Major League Baseball teams, the Chicago White Sox were the first to ditch plastic straws in April, and Bon Appetit Management, which runs concessions for the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park, announced its company-wide plastic straw ban in May with plans to make the ballpark completely straw-free by next year. Straws will still be available for those with disabilities.

“Whenever the private sector takes action for the environment without being pushed by legislation, it both proves to other companies that it can be done and eases the way for a law to be passed,” Maisie Ganzler, chief strategy and brand officer for Bon Appetit told Bloomberg Environment. “If we show that plastic straws can be eliminated and guest satisfaction remains high, or possibly increases because everyone wants to do the right thing, that should aide in quashing resistance beyond Bon Appétit Management Company.”

Major League Baseball may be moving quicker than cities on the issue, but it’s happening without an official league-wide mandate. While the league can encourage initiatives, whether clubs choose to implement them is their decision.

“Major League Baseball proudly encourages our clubs to implement new and innovative environmental practices that best fit their ballparks,” Paul Hanlon, senior director of ballpark operations & sustainability for the MLB, told Bloomberg Environment. “We applaud the New York Yankees and Chicago White Sox for choosing to eliminate single-use plastic straws and being leaders in this effort. We will continue to support our clubs as they adopt innovative ideas in environmental stewardship.”

Party Without the Plastic

Organizers of stadium-sized events are also looking at ways to cut their addition to plastic. For example, Live Nation announced April 20 that it is removing single-use plastic straws from 45 amphitheaters across the U.S.

“Per unit, environmentally friendly paper straws are more expensive than plastic, but to cut down on overall waste, we’ve also implemented a ‘straw by request only’ policy,” Lucy August-Perna, manager of venue sustainability for U.S. concerts at Live Nation, told Bloomberg Environment. “This means we’ll still provide alternative paper straws to attendees who require or request them, but overall we expect to spare the use of over 3 million plastic straws in our U.S. venues this summer alone.”

Plastic straws may be getting ejected from ballparks, but companies are seizing the opportunity to offer alternatives with a smaller environmental footprint.

“The traditional petroleum based plastic suppliers are really getting pushed on this, and the paper straw suppliers are also getting pushed because all of a sudden they’re all getting [more] inquiries,” Mark Marinozzi, a spokesman for World Centric, a compostable tableware provider, told Bloomberg Environment. “The volume of feed-stock that is currently being made here or even in Asia is so low that it wouldn’t be able to supply all of the straws that are necessarily used even for us. That’s going to change over the next three to five years.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Sam McQuillan in Washington at smcquillan@bloombergenvironment.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rachael Daigle at rdaigle@bloombergenvironment.com

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