Socially conscious consumers in California are putting single-use plastics on the endangered species list as plastic bags and straws near extinction, and Downtown Lodi businesses are joining the trend.

In 2014, former Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law Senate Bill 270, which provided $2 million in competitive loans to help plastic bag manufacturers convert their operations to produce reusable bags. Following its passage, stores were required to charge at least 10 cents for each recycled paper bag or reusable plastic bag provided to a customer.

In August 2018, Assembly Bill 1884 was voted into law. The bill requires restaurants to give out single-use straws only upon request. It applies to full-service dining establishments, but exempts fast-food restaurants. With its passage, California became the first state in the nation to restrict the use of plastic straws in restaurants without banning them completely.

Inspire Coffee in Downtown Lodi is taking things a step further. The local coffee shop is offering its customers polystyrene-free straws — which are biodegradable — to reduce their carbon footprint and reduce the amount of plastic pollution coming from their cafe.

“The move to find an alternative straw that is not harmful to the environment is important to us because we recognize that it is that the small changes that lead to larger impacts over time,” manager Nicholas Coffman said.

As global environmental organizations advocate for governments to ban single-use plastics — which often end up in waterways and threaten marine life — more businesses are looking for biodegradable alternatives that can break down into natural materials without causing harm to the environment.

At the local level, participants in the Lodi Lake Coastal Cleanup each September and April regularly see plastic bottles, straws, bits of styrofoam and other trash. In 2017, Lodians collected 1,608 cigarette butts, 2,048 food wrappers, 536 plastic food containers, 128 polystyrene containers, 365 plastic beverage bottles and 205 plastic grocery bags at the lake.

It’s a trash trend seen elsewhere.

A report published by Dr. Roland Geyer of the University of California Santa Barbara Bren School of Environmental Science and Management found that Americans use nearly 500 million plastic straws a day. Up to 8.3 billion straws pollute the world’s beaches before making their way into the ocean.

Single-use plastics that leech into oceans and litter streets are harmful to the environment because they are made using petrochemicals — crude oil and natural gas. Materials made with petrochemicals don’t erode naturally. Plastic that reaches the ocean lingers until animals consume it.

“It is important for us to make the effort towards conservation, because if we do not take care of the planet now there is not going to be anything left for future generations,” said Alyce Regalia, manager at Sheri’s Sonshine Nutrition Center.

As major companies like Starbucks and McDonald’s move to reduce reliance on single-use plastics products, so have some of the companies that make the products sold at Sheri’s Sonshine Nutrition Center.

“We noticed certain vitamin brands move away from plastic packaging to glass,” Regalia said.

Local businesses that are looking to use more ecologically sustainable products are faced with figuring out how to balance making money with being environmentally conscious.

“Finding that balance is not easy,” said David Cicileo, a co-owner of Stockton’s Cast Iron Trading Co. “It helps to have a network or information available to businesses so they can work with suppliers that offer environmentally conscious products that don’t burden business owners and or their customers.”

Local businesses and groups can bridge the financial gap when buying biodegradable food containers, utensils and cups by developing a network of suppliers that can work within the community, he added.

The Lodi District Chamber of Commerce does not yet offer workshops about environmentally friendly business practices, but that may change in the future.

“As more bills get passed, I think it is something we should consider, because there are more being proposed that effect take out containers and single-use plastic bottles,” communications director Elisa Bubak said.

Inspire is hoping to provide eco-friendly cups for both warm and cold beverages in the coming months as they find a cost-effective alternative, Coffman said.

Other restaurants in Downtown Lodi are looking at how to reduce their food waste, such as Smack Pie Pizza.

“We are very precise with our inventory,” manager Ashley Jones said. “We would rather under-prep than over-prep, because then we end up with food waste.”

A report by the United States Environmental Protection Agency found that Americans waste an average of 39 million tons of food a year. Less than 6% of that food waste is diverted from landfills and incinerators for composting.

“I think people just really don’t know how devastating garbage and plastic is to our environment, because we just don’t take the time to educate ourselves about it — which is a shame,” Regalia said.

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