What’s the Big Deal About Plastic Straws?

Plastic drinking straws seem like such a small thing. Why do I find myself reading about them so often these days? Why are some cities banning the use of plastic straws? What’s going on here?

According to a CNN news story, nearly eight million tons of plastic waste makes its way into oceans and waterways each year. It is estimated that by the year 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans. Plastic straws are a single-use item.

Every day, Americans throw away 500 million plastic straws, enough to circle the earth twice. These straws are made of a petroleum by-product, polypropylene. It does not biodegrade naturally. When in the ocean, it floats until it’s consumed by some form of ocean life or else it makes its way to one of the floating ocean garbage dumps.

The Plastics Pollution Coalition states “Every bit of plastic that has ever been created still exists, including the small amount that has been incinerated and has become toxic particulate matter.” While the straws do not degrade, they do break into smaller pieces. These pieces act like sponges absorbing chemical compounds like PCB and DDT that are in the water.

The small pieces are eaten by sea animals and then become part of their bodies. They make their way up the food chain, eventually to be consumed by humans. Straws that don’t end up in the ocean cause other kinds of problems. Since they don’t biodegrade, those that are in landfill site are there forever.

Another negative consequence is that they go down storm drains adding to the build-up of debris that causes property damage when streets flood. These single use plastic straws are among the top five items removed from the sand when beach cleanups are held. The Ocean Conservancy has shared the following: Millions of plastic straws pollute our ocean where endangered animals like sea turtles can choke on them.

The average American eats out four times a week and almost everyone gets a straw (or two). If we get 25,000 people to skip the straw at restaurants every time, we can keep 5 million plastic straws out of our ocean and landfills in just one year. Take the Last Straw Challenge: When eating out, ask your waiter or waitress to skip the straw.

People have good reasons for using straws. What I am talking about is single-use plastic straws that restaurants routinely place in drink orders. There are alternatives to these. Paper straws are biodegradable. If you need to use straws at home, consider these or reusable straws made of glass, stainless steel, bamboo or other that can be washed and reused. While I don’t believe a ban on plastic straws will end the plastic pollution problem, it is a place to start.

For information, go to thelastplasticstraw.org.

This article first appeared in the Rossmoor News, March 21, 2018. Author Linda Walonen is a member of Sustainable Rossmoor’s Trash Talkers Team. She can be emailed at lsw923@comcast.net.

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