The idea of banning plastic straws as a means to reduce pollution has become an unexpected flashpoint of political debate in recent years. The conversation was reignited Wednesday during CNN's climate town hall with Democratic presidential candidates when Sen. Kamala Harris said she's in favor of banning them.
"We do need to ban the plastic ones," Harris said, adding that the country should "encourage innovation" in finding alternatives.
Cities like San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C., have prohibited the use of plastic straws. Several companies — including Disney, Starbucks and American Airlines — have announced plans to stop using them as well.
Why there's debate:
Supporters of straw bans say they are a simple step that can help reduce the massive amount of plastic waste in our oceans that can be harmful to marine life. Advocates also see the bans as a first step in a campaign to reduce single-use plastics and a means to compel consumers to think critically about the environmental impact of their buying decisions.
The bans have been criticized by environmentalists as coming up well short of what's needed to combat pollution, since straws make up only a tiny percentage of the detritus in the ocean. Focusing on small items like plastic straws, some argue, distracts us from addressing the more significant sources of pollution. "This is exactly what the fossil fuel industry wants us to talk about," Sen. Elizabeth Warren said during Wednesday's town hall.
Others say the bans are discriminatory against people with certain disabilities, who may not be able to use alternatives like metal or paper straws.
The bans are seen by some on the right as a cause championed by overzealous progressives. Defiant use of plastic straws has become a popular political statement among prominent conservatives, including the president.
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