We spend most of our lives as consumers at restaurants and coffee shops. When presented with drinks, we grab a plastic straw, sip our drink to its completion, and throw the straw away. However, companies and government bodies have recently taken notice of the detriment that this seemingly harmless action has.
In 2015, a viral video filmed by marine biologist Christine Figgener displayed the catastrophic effects of plastic straws on a local sea turtle, who had a plastic straw deeply embedded inside its nose. However, it wasn’t until around 2017 that The Lonely Whale Foundation and 5 Gyres collaborated to spearhead the action of banning straws through the project: Strawless Ocean.
Alternatives for plastic straws are becoming more common. The following are just three examples of straw alternatives:
- Paper Straws
Paper straws are biodegradable and safe to use.
- Metal Straws
They are reusable and dishwasher-safe. Most importantly, they are non-toxic and BPA-free.
- Bamboo Straws
Bamboo straws will decompose naturally when worn out; ensuring no landfill waste.
Critics of the anti-plastic straw movement express concerns about the effects on individuals with disabilities. Advocates express that some individuals need to use plastic straws, given that other straw material is a detriment to their health. One individual explains that she requires plastic straws due to physical limitations that make it difficult to hold heavier material, and require her to travel with sealed cups with straws. Companies are continuing these conversations, considering making plastic straws accessible only for those who need it.
The concern with plastic straws begins with the basic concern of plastic itself, straws being one subset of a bigger issue. Main concerns with regards to plastic are as follows:
- Plastic is made of harmful chemicals.
Polypropylene and Bisphenol A (BPA), the main chemicals found in most plastics, can lead to risks of cancer and other illnesses when in hot liquids.
- Many plastics cannot be truly recycled
According to a study published in Science Advances, 79% of plastic was accumulated in landfills or the ocean. Plastic is impenetrable and may take thousands of years to decompose.
- Plastic is toxic for animals.
Given the seeping of plastics into the ocean and landfills, plastic often reaches animals who may eat it thinking that it’s food. When ingested, this can cause a ripple effect in the food web.
Plastic straws are only the beginning. However, we use approximately 500 million straws a day, making this a meaningful start! Just this month, Seattle banned straws from bars and restaurants, and San Francisco is soon to follow. Other government regions around the country including the Palm Beach County government are having similar conversations. Organizations such as Starbucks and American Airlines are following suit.
For many of us, there may be a period of adjusting. However, small actions such as buying a reusable alternative or reducing the use of straws at restaurants can make a difference for the environment at large!
by Monica Larrea