While it’s true over 8 million tons of plastic debris flows into the world’s oceans every year, it’s not always clear exactly which products are the greatest offenders. Could it be the plastic water bottle? Perhaps. Or maybe it is the polyethylene coating we so often find wrapped tightly around different food items at the market? Very likely. But this is not a secret. Everyone knows these plastic items are some of the biggest culprits in a growing environmental problem.
But there is one other item – small, lightweight, and convenient – that sits at the center of this eco-discussion: the plastic straw. Even though it is not necessary for beverage consumption, Americans use approximately 500 million straws every day. As a result, they are one of the greatest waste management challenges and an ongoing threat to sustainability.
The Environmental Danger Posed by Plastic Straws
Because plastic straws are small in size and innocent in purpose, they often go unnoticed by those who don’t realize how insidious they can be in polluting the environment. Although straws themselves only make up a small fraction of marine pollutants, their material is still ingested by sea life and is clearly visible on most beaches.
Since most people don’t realize how destructive plastic straws can be, they tend to grab these items without much thought and use them regularly, rarely putting them in the recycling bins where they belong. As a result, they end up in landfills or worse, littered on the ground or in the oceans, where they wreak all sorts of havoc with ecosystems.
In this way, the plastic straw is particularly dangerous precisely because it is typically overlooked as being an environmental problem. There are so many bigger, more dangerous plastics out there, it’s sometimes hard to imagine the straw as being one of them. And yet, it is.
Plastic Straws as a Symbol for Change
In fact, the plastic straw is more than just a conduit for our sodas – it is a symbol for the change society must make. While so many items made of consumer-based plastic seem impossible to restrict, the straw is small and manageable enough to actually control. As consumers, we have a choice about using them – a choice we are faced with almost every day. Unlike excessive product packaging, which is often beyond an individual’s control, it is still possible to enjoy a beverage without using a plastic straw.
By saying no to the straw in our own lives, we are not only limiting the amount of unnecessary plastic in the environment, we also raise awareness about how easy it is to set limits on what we use. Regularly avoiding straws can make a real impact on waste management, reduce overall microplastics, and lead to even larger environmental actions.
This is because when people don’t buy something, less profit is made. And when less profit is made, businesses take notice. And when they take notice, things change. And this change could very likely involve less manufacturing and distributing of plastic straws, which would help the world considerably.
Plastic Straw Progress Is Being Made
However, the issue of the straw has not gone unnoticed by eco-conscious individuals looking to make a change. Straws are, in fact, an icon of a growing environmental campaign aimed at changing the way people think about waste. They are at the center of a movement to empower consumers to make different choices for the right reasons.
In an effort to curb their negative environmental effects, a legitimate anti-straw movement has begun to take shape, and as it grows, it gains more and more momentum. Plastic straws are on an ever-growing list of harmful products being taxed, boycotted, or even banned in certain places.
For example, in the fall of 2016, California became the first state in the U.S. to ban plastic bags, joining other countries like China, Kenya, and Bangladesh. France stepped up the movement even more and decided to ban plastic plates, cups, and utensils by the year 2020. Of course, plastic manufacturers continue to insist there is no reason to target their products.
Pro-plastic businesses claim the replacement products are often equally as harmful to the environment, if not more so. Further, they suggest the problem lies with inefficient waste management practices, not the items themselves. Regardless of where the blame is placed, the fact remains that plastics are not being safely disposed of. However, if they are eliminated from personal use, they can no longer pose a problem.
So, when considering the plastic straw, created in the 1930s for trendy soda fountains, you may conclude it no longer serves a purpose. There are ways to develop biodegradable paper straws that work just as well – with no negative environmental consequences. If giving up the straw is, in fact, a gateway to bigger environmental changes, why not start today?