Simone Lunghi canoeing on the canal whose bottom is filled with plastic straws, Source: Angeli dei Navigli Facebook

Milan’s canals are filled with plastic straws

Milan’s canals are filled with plastic straws

More than a month after the European directive banning the sale of disposable plastics entered into force

On 14 January, the European SUP directive banning the sale of single-use, non-biodegradable, non-compostable plastic entered into force in Italy, with the aim of drastically cutting the use of cutlery, plates and straws so common in the catering and nightlife industries.

The Milanese NGO, called Angeli dei Navigli (or Angels of the Canals), however, reported that the bottoms of the canals bordering the main nightlife areas in Milan are still literally carpeted with plastic straws. The issue, as it turns out, is complex as it also concerns the use of other materials.

Why bioplastics aren’t a good alternative either?

Even if a city moves ahead with progress in certain areas, having comprehensive results across all sectors of society might require longer time and patience. The City of Milan itself had already substituted plastic from school canteens with biodegradable materials in 2016, with the claim that this saved 720 tons of plastic each year.

The situation is different when going to Naviglio Grande, a historic canal in the city, which is also the centre stage of the nightlife area, being surrounded by bars and nightclubs. The result is that hundreds of plastic straws, plus bottles, cans and glasses get thrown there regularly by the partying revellers.

Simone Lunghi, who practices canoeing and leads cleaning efforts of the canals with Angeli dei Navigli, took photos of the hundreds of straws carpeting the bottom of the canal where he practices his sport.

Regarding the 14 January ban on plastic straws, he exclaimed: “Italy actually asked for a derogation to be able to continue producing and selling at least "compostable" straws. But all "compostable" items should be sent to appropriate disposal facilities. This is why we will pay a fine because no derogation will be granted since the European Union wants elimination and not replacement. They will therefore be definitively banned within a couple of years.

Mr Lunghi doesn’t see bioplastics as the answer because their degradability is not as simple as one imagines. In reality, they can be composted only under certain conditions, such as high temperatures, humidity and microorganisms, the kind of which are not present in the Milanese canals.

Simone Lunghi also says that using bioplastic straws doesn’t meet the aim of the European directive, which is to encourage reduced use and re-use, rather than disposability. His organization is working on a campaign to encourage club owners to adapt to using metal, non-disposable straws or pasta straws.

The latter is actually an organic type of straw, which is exactly what you imagine it to be - a drinking straw which is in essence a long pasta tube. Nothing seems more Italian than a product that combines design and pasta into one. With a strong dash of sustainability to top it all.

Simone Lunghi’s third proposal is to do away with straws completely as an object of nightlife or dining out. “Anyone who is not bed-ridden or who doesn’t have problems with swallowing can do without them,” he concluded, as quoted by La Repubblica.



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