Did you know that in America only we use over 500 million plastic straws each day? This translates to 182.5 billion straws annually. How many times do you take your straws for recycling? You probably dump them in the nearest bin and forget about them. Do you know what impact such plastics have on our environment? Let me shed some light.
Why are Plastics a Problem?
Previously, items that we are currently making from plastics were made from coal or byproducts of natural gas. Things changed in 1907 when we made the first plastic polymer from Bakelite (fossil fuels). The process of polymerization (making plastics) involves heating and curing of the products. This changes the true form of Bakelite, which makes it hard to recycle them 100%.
It is also impossible to achieve the original quality and, therefore, they are only recycled to make less inferior products. After a few recycling processes, that piece of plastic is beyond reform, and it is eventually thrown away.
Plastics can stay for over 100 years in landfills without decomposing. This means they occupy potential garbage space and they pollute the waters. Some forms of plastics slowly release their chemical composition into the environment. These chemicals can cause our ozone layer to deplete or even pollute the waters, and there is nothing much we can do at this stage. For this reason, prevention is better than cure when it comes to plastics.
Straws are made from polypropylene, which we can recycle in theory. However, most of them end up in dumpsites. If they don’t find their way to a landfill, the straws will be on a big boat en route to China for a controversial plastic trade. Most of them drift out to sea because of their minute nature, and they join the rest of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. In fact, the reason we have the plastic straw ban today is because of a viral video showing a sea turtle with a straw blocking his nostril.
In my opinion, the battle shouldn’t end with straws. We need to ban all forms of plastics and go back to the good old glass and porcelain. Our environment needs us, and the creatures in it (human beings included) can only survive for as long as the environment supports them.
The Concerns versus the Facts
While big franchise like Starbucks is in support of the ban, there are several organizations and individuals fighting the ban.
- The associations of persons living with disability are on the forefront opposing the plastic straw ban. Their case is arguably reasonable. People without hands need to feel comfortable dining in public and straws play a significant role. However, the straws they use don’t have to be plastic. They can use recyclable bamboo straws or the other alternatives below.
- Another concern is that closing down the manufacturing factories means we lose more jobs. Our nation has enough job burdens with several unemployed citizens living from hand to mouth. This concern is equally valid. However, if we close down the plastic straw factories and open recyclable straw factories, we can shift this labor in that direction. The factories will incur losses in the machinery and equipment but this is a loss that can be mitigated by the government and if possible find a new use for the equipment.
- The opposition also argues that the recyclable straw companies might not be able to meet the demand. While it takes lesser time to manufacture plastic straws, the recyclable options are worth the wait. After all, we don’t always need straws, to be honest, do we?
- A ban on plastic straws means we spend more money buying safer alternatives. We can look at this as a possible solution to discourage people from buying straws eventually. Whether plastic or recyclable, most of us don’t need them anyway.
You might be wondering, why not encourage people to recycle instead of banning these plastic straws? Well, did you know that only 9 % of trash gets recycled? Don’t take my word for it. The statistics are according to this 2017 report. So you can imagine the 91% of plastic trash you slid in the “recycling” bin is releasing toxins somewhere in a landfill. Maybe if you had used glass instead of plastic, we would have different statistics.
Alternatives to Plastic Straws
Now that you see the need for Plastic Straw Ban let’s discuss the alternatives we have.
Multi-use straws – This is one of the best alternatives. We can reuse and easily clean straws made from metal with ease. The major drawback with this option is the cost compared to the plastic straws currently in use.
Decomposable straws – Straws made from plant material like bamboo can decompose safely even when disposed of in landfills. However, some need further crushing to facilitate the decomposition. Looking at the trend, we might do more harm than good to our plants if we choose this route. We cannot sustain the number of straws manufactured in a day.
Recyclable straws – This option may seem viable to most people. However, the municipal recycling system has failed us. And maybe we shouldn’t blame them as much, because we end up trashing more waste than they can handle, right?
Life without straws – If you can use your two hands comfortably, you can as well sip from a glass. Does the drink taste different? Not really! The straws are just mental barriers we have created over time. Our forefathers didn’t use plastics, and that’s why we found a clean world to live in. Will our future generations say the same?
Several states within the USA have already effected The Plastic Straw Ban. In some states like Seattle and Oakland, they have passed “a straw-upon-request” ordinance. Other cities are still drafting similar legislation, but the negative public reception with demonstration against the ban is making it almost impossible.
I believe with or without legislative laws, we can all support the ban individually. When you order a drink, choose to sip from the glass or use the above alternatives for the sake of our environment. If we all unite against plastic straws, the manufacturers will soon join in the plastic straw ban, and together we will make our environment safer for our future generations.