When Eva Holman used to walk her dog daily at Baker Beach, she’d come across a lot of trash. She paid attention to the patterns of trash she’d find, and she started noticing a lot of plastic straws and plastic bottle caps. She wanted to do something about the plastic pollution problem she was witnessing on her neighborhood beach, so she got in touch with Surfrider and launched a monthly Baker Beach cleanup. That was about 7 years ago, and she’s been leading the San Francisco Chapter’s Rise Above Plastics (RAP) program for the past 6 years.
“I’ve always had sort of an activist nature,” Eva says. “I’ve worked in homeless services, for Art Against Aids, and I’ve . . .raise[d] money for breast cancer agencies in San Francisco. [But I became] so passionate about [Surfrider], that I didn’t have time to have a real job anymore.”
As the lead of RAP, Eva has been a part of several large environmental campaigns in San Francisco over the years, such as the Styrofoam ban and the plastic bag ban. Most recently, she advocated tirelessly for a plastic straw ban, which eventually became the Plastics, Toxics, and Litter Reduction Ordinance. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously passed this ordinance last month.
The ordinance stipulates that:
- All straws, stirrers, toothpicks, beverage plugs, and cocktail sticks served within SF must be plastic-free. (They can be paper, bamboo, wood, metal, or fiber, but cannot be made out of plastic or plant-based, compostable plastic.)
- Single-use foodware items will only be distributed upon request. These items include straws, sleeves, lids, stirrers, beverage plugs, utensils, condiment packets, and napkins.
- Compostable foodware distributed in San Francisco must be BPI (Biodegradable Product Institute) certified.
- All foodware that is provided, distributed, or sold in San Francisco must have no intentionally added fluorinated chemicals. Foodware must be BPI certified for verification.
- City-owned and city-leased facilities, as well as any permitted outdoor city event, with 100 or more attendees must provide reusable cups as an option for 10% of attendees.
- The city may set a post-consumer recycled content percentage minimum for specific foodware, such as cups, if adopted through regulations.
The top three provisions will go into effect on July 1, 2019. And the following three provisions will (or would, in the case of the sixth provision) go into effect on January 1, 2020.
Eva and other environmental activists inside and outside of Surfrider laid the groundwork for the Plastics, Toxics, and Litter Reduction Ordinance back in 2015. They approached the Board of Supervisors with the idea of banning plastic straws and stirrers, and Surfrider Headquarter’s legal team drafted some legislation. Although some of the Supervisors were interested, they had higher priorities at the time, so it didn’t end up going anywhere.
“We were totally frustrated,” Eva says. “But instead of just being frustrated, we restructured our campaign to be a celebration of businesses that [were making] the move away from plastic straws on their own . . . while we strategized [about how to gain support for] a ban in the future.”
Eva emphasized the importance of Surfrider volunteer Anna Kauffman’s work. Anna has done a ton of outreach and education that has resulted in many restaurants deciding to ditch plastic straws. “Anna . . . was a beast out there on the streets, going from restaurant to restaurant and bar to bar, getting so many people to switch and making such a huge impact.”
Surfrider also partnered with eco-pliant, a San Francisco-based paper straw supplier, in order to help make straws more available. And Eva and her fellow activists made sure to celebrate victories, like Off the Grid in the Presidio going plastic straw free and The Fillmore switching to paper straws. “All these things kept building really strong support [for a straw ban],” Eva said.
In March, Eva met with the head of Surfrider’s legal team and a representative from Upstream, who let her know that the Board of Supervisors looked like they were ready to put forth progressive legislation on plastics that would include straws. Eva said that Katy Tang was an obvious Supervisor to partner with this time around.
“It’s been an incredible journey to work so closely with the San Francisco government and to have this beautiful symbiotic relationship where we can support one other. Without our activism, it would be really hard for them . . . to push something like this forward. And without them in city hall doing it, we would just be a bunch of activists asking for restaurants to change. In 10 years, maybe we would have gotten everyone to [switch], but this is such a broad, sweeping win.”
In the midst of the excitement about the straw ban, Eva wants to remind us that reducing, not replacing, waste should be our ultimate goal.
“When you’re trying to get people to skip using a straw, oftentimes people automatically put a paper straw in its place. It doesn’t have to be this instead of that,” she says. “It can be none of it. While we’re really excited that [toxic chemicals will] not be on to-go containers anymore, we’re even more excited to create a world without to-go containers. Bringing your own container or eating ‘for here’ are much-better options.”
Eva encourages activists who are interested in creating change to partner with local, well-regarded advocacy groups and to learn how government works. “Sitting in on Board of Supervisors meetings that are open to the public and learning how the system works will make you a better advocate for the environment,” she says. “Standing up and screaming on a chair with a sign actually doesn’t work at all when you’re dealing with really delicate environmental issues and trying to influence change positively. It will actually keep you out of the conversation.”
She also stresses the importance of doing your research and staying positive. “I think being armed with data, science, and research is the best way to go about [trying to change people’s minds]. Having an opinion is just having an opinion, but having a fact or some research or data you’ve collected is really powerful. Demonizing people doesn’t work well, but celebrating small changes and offering resources, information, and education does.”
When asked what big initiative she’s turning to next, she says there’s something in the works, but she’s not quite ready to unveil it. Check back on the blog soon to see what’s next for Eva!