Many restaurants have switched from plastic to paper straws to help the ongoing environmental crisis, and some cities have banned plastic straws indefinitely. I question, however, if this effort is actually making any difference. Looking at statistics, such as how the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and proportion of other oceanic trash continues to grow exponentially, people should focus their attention on limiting the use of other items, like fishing gear/nets and plastic bottles, which have bigger impacts on oceanic ecosystems.
Bans on plastic straws have already been installed in Seattle, and soon to be enforced in Vancouver and the European Union. McDonald’s stated it will ban plastic straws in its Ireland and U.K. locations. Starbucks also announced that they plan to phase out plastic straws from their stores by 2020.
Plastic straws are single-use, not biodegradable, harmful to marine animals and the ocean ecosystem and are generally not accepted at recycling facilities. Environmental activists want to end the use of this seemingly simple item because they contaminate the shores, degrade into everlasting microplastics and millions of straws are discarded into landfills each day.
According to National Geographic, 500 million straws are used by Americans every day; that’s enough to fill 125 school buses, but they only account for a tiny fraction of the pollution. There are 9 million tons of waste in the ocean and 2,000 tons of that comes from plastic straws; that means plastic straws compose only a mere 0.0002%.
In the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, 46% of the trash by mass are fishing nets and fishing gear. So why aren’t we honing in on fishing gear/nets and trying to invent alternatives that are safer for marine life and the environment?
Yes, plastic straws — although a small part of the issue — are still part of the filth that is contaminating our oceans. There has been a lot of pushback towards lawmakers when proposing anti-plastic straw (bendy straws included) bills regarding those with disabilities.
Just as writer and disability-rights activist, Penny Pepper discussed in her article in The Guardian, many people with disabilities rely on plastic bendy straws. Surely, there are reusable alternatives other than paper straws, such as glass, acrylic, bamboo, silicone or — my recommendation — metal straws. She also states that she has tried the alternatives and they all came with their own set of issues for her.
Perhaps laws should restrict plastic straw distribution rather than ban them, like in San Francisco. Plastic straws are only made available by restaurants or vendors upon request to accommodate a disability or medical need.
Plastic cutlery, fishing gear/nets, plastic water bottles and plastic bags are other components to the trash build up in our oceans that we and the government should start considering making improvisions to.
Ultimately, the switch to paper straws from plastic is a very low-effort attempt to stop the pollution issue. Yes, I strongly believe we should continue to progress towards paper and biodegradable materials to wean off plastics and clean the Earth, but to become an eco-friendly nation, we must reposition our focal point off plastic straws and onto other plastic trash.