For the last half-century, plastic has become part of our daily life. From furniture to grocery bags, from vehicle parts to toys, plastic has become unavoidable and viewed as a material of immense destruction and harm.
Plastic straws, in particular, have become public enemy No. 1. It all started in 2015 when a video went viral of a sea turtle getting a bloody plastic straw extracted from its nose due to plastic marine litter, and since then many people have been on the fight to ban plastic straws. If you really think about it, yes, eliminating the number of plastic straws that are used will help with the problem of plastic waste, but they are the least of our problems.
Many large companies like A&W have been eliminating plastic straws and replacing them with biodegradable ones. Other companies like Starbucks simply replaced the plastic straws, with more plastic. Starbucks plans to eliminate the use of plastic straws by 2020, yet have designed a strawless lid to take its place. It has most of us rolling our eyes as the lids will be made of more plastic than the straws themselves.
Another complexity in banning plastic straws is people who suffer from a disability. Something that most of us haven’t considered is that there are a number of people who rely specfically on plastic straws to eat and drink. For many, plastic straw alternatives aren’t realistic. Paper straws are impractical for disabled people who take longer to drink as they tend to get soggy and even disintegrate in one’s mouth. On the other hand, most metal straws are immovable, and therefore impossible to bend for those with mobility imperfections.
People have stood behind the banning of plastic straws as if it will eliminate the problem entirely. It won’t.
According to a study from the United Nations, nearly nine million tonnes of plastic — bottles, packaging and other waste — enter the ocean each year, with straws accounting for about 2,000 tonnes. This is only four per cent of the total amount of plastic trash found in our oceans.
This isn’t to say that banning plastic straws won’t help the environment but it’s perplexing to see why they were chosen as the item to focus new legislation on. Plastic bags, for example, are the largest constituent of marine debris so why aren’t legislators banning plastic bags in favour of paper ones instead? Straw bans will barely put a dent in the flood of plastic spewing into our environment.
The growth of plastic products has far outstripped the ability of waste management to keep up and we are now drowning in it.
As of right now we only have two options. Continue to fight for the ban of plastic straws, which will have a minuscule effect, or look at more effective ways to slow down or stop plastic production entirely in order to save our environment.