California's Proposed Straw Ban Won't Actually Threaten Restaurant Employees With Jail Time

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Drinking straws are easy to find at eateries, but not so much in recycling bins. To curb pollution, California lawmaker Ian Calderon introduced a bill in January that would reduce plastic straw use in restaurants. Thanks to the measure's wording, it caused an uproar, Munchies reports. As it currently reads, restaurant employees would face $1000 fines or jail sentences of up to six months if they provide a straw to a customer unasked.

Calderon, the majority leader of the California State Assembly, says that the bill wasn’t meant to be so harsh. He chalked its language up to miscommunication, explaining to The Washington Post that the California Office of Legislative Counsel drafted the bill into a state health code section with jail penalties. They didn’t have time to fix it, and Calderon planned to amend the bill’s wording before it reached a committee. (He still intends to remove its criminal penalties.)

Backlash aside (one Republican politician called for people to mail Calderon their straws), Calderon simply wanted to introduce a measure that required sit-down restaurants to adhere to a straws-upon-request policy. Fast-food restaurants, cafés, and delis wouldn’t have to adhere to the guideline.

“We need to create awareness around the issue of one-time use plastic straws and its detrimental effects on our landfills, waterways, and oceans,” Calderon said in a statement. “AB 1884 is not ban on plastic straws. It is a small step towards curbing our reliance on these convenience products, which will hopefully contribute to a change in consumer attitudes and usage.”

Straws play a small—yet undeniable—part in our world’s ever-growing plastic waste problem. They typically wind up in landfills, and can end up in the ocean if proper disposal methods aren’t followed. This harms marine life, as fish and other creatures can mistake bits of broken-down straws for food.

Cities in California, including Manhattan Beach, San Luis Obispo, and Santa Cruz, have implemented their own versions of a straw ban. Berkeley and Los Angeles might soon follow suit, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. As for Calderon’s bill: It still needs to be revised, voted on, and approved. So nothing’s set in stone (or plastic) for now.

[h/t Munchies]

Thick Arctic Sea Ice Near Greenland Has Broken Up for the First Time in History

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The sea off Greenland's northern coast has long been referred to as "the last ice area.” The ice there is so old and thick that scientists believed the shelf would be the last to remain intact in the area in the face of climate change. Now, a new development is challenging that assumption: As The Guardian reports, the strongest sea ice in the Arctic has started to break apart for the first time in recorded history.

The ice above Greenland owed its fortitude up to this point to the Transpolar Drift Stream. Ice from Siberia carried by the current collects on Greenland's coast, condensing to create a sturdy ice pack that's more than 13 feet thick, with ridges exceeding 65 feet in some places. The ice has remained whole at least since scientists started keeping satellite records of it in the 1970s, but an unusually warm and windy year has compromised its integrity.

The breaking sea ice has been documented twice this year—once in February and once in August, both times when temperatures spiked above the averages for the region. The heatwaves weakened the ice and dislodged it from the coast, and warm winds pushed it further from land, creating a patch of open water larger than has ever before been observed in the Arctic. Temperatures will eventually drop back down and the gap will close up, but that won't be enough to reverse the damage. The ice has already been displaced to a spot where it will melt more easily the next time warm weather arrives up north.

Climate scientists are rethinking how global warming might reshape the Arctic. Now that "the last ice area" has started to break up, experts are now saying the true last holdout of the region may be further west. Norwegian Meteorological Institute scientist Thomas Lavergne described the phenomenon as "scary" on Twitter.

Less permanent sea ice means polar bears will have fewer areas for hunting marine mammals, their main food source. New gaps in the ice can also trigger a feedback loop: While white ice reflects the Sun's heat, the dark ocean surface absorbs it, raising temperatures and causing ice to melt faster, feeding a perilous cycle. Arctic ice cover at both poles has been shrinking at a rapid rate in recent decades, with the Larsen C breaking off from Antarctica last summer and forming an iceberg the size of Delaware. Scientists predict that there will be no summer ice present in the Arctic Ocean at all starting some time in the next 10 to 30 years.

[h/t The Guardian]

Why You Should Never Flush Your Contacts Down the Drain

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iStock

When a pair of contact lenses reach the end of their short life span, it may be tempting to dump them—and the liquid they’re stored in—down the bathroom sink drain. As The Atlantic points out, though, this is bad for the environment.

However small and thin they may be, contact lenses can contribute to microplastic pollution in waterways when they’re not disposed of properly, according to a new study presented at the recent American Chemical Society national meeting in Boston. The study surveyed contact lens users and non-users, and found that 19 percent of users flush the lenses down the toilet or sink drain instead of placing them in the trash. That translates to about 3 billion contact lenses per year, Rolf Halden, a researcher at Arizona State University and one of the study's authors, told The Atlantic.

Halden said he was inspired to look into the issue out of personal interest—he, too, wears contact lenses—and because he couldn’t find any studies on what happens to lenses after they’re flushed down the drain. Halden and his team discovered that the lenses end up in wastewater, where they can sink to the bottom because they are denser than water. There, they could endanger aquatic life, especially bottom feeders that may ingest the particles.

Researchers also found that microbes in wastewater treatment plant systems can degrade the structure of the lenses themselves and break them into tinier pieces. In the larger environment, those bits could be consumed by every organism in the local food chain. In addition, some of the flushed lenses are turned into a treated sewage sludge that is ultimately used to fertilize crops, so the waste could end up in our soil and affect creatures like earthworms. The extent to which this affects humans' food supply is not currently known.

"Ultimately, we hope that manufacturers will conduct more research on how the lenses impact aquatic life and how fast the lenses degrade in a marine environment,” Halden says in a statement.

So the next time you’re done using your contact lenses, think of the fish and worms, and throw them in the trash instead.

[h/t The Atlantic]

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