While I’m sparing everybody the horrible visuals of the unfortunate turtles saddled with wayward straws stuck up their nose, I do want to share this consumption visual – the number of straws used daily in the United States could circle our planet more than two-and-a-half times a day – 500 million straws! While it’s easy to mindlessly take those “free” straws, they come at a high price. This seemingly innocuous straw has significant environmental impact – Extracting resources, distribution, polluting our oceans and crowding our landfills.
In the early 1900s straws, made of paper and rye, became common due to the fear of polio and tuberculosis being transmitted from shared glasses. In the mid-1950s as cars became popular, fast food restaurants soon graced our roadways. Fast-food restaurants replaced glass with low-cost disposable packaging for meals and made straws commonplace accompanying drinks on the go. By 1960, those renewable paper straws were replaced with plastic, a petroleum product. To gain a strong foothold, straws were heavily marketed as “convenient” and a way to reduce illness exposure from improperly washed containers. With people eating more meals on the go, straws fling into our environment. Now, consider the implications of twenty minutes of convenience.
More demand for straws means more production, more oil and gas extraction, more electricity for production, and more gas to both ship materials to plastic manufacturers and to deliver straws to the consumer. So, more carbon emissions and pollution for a now commonplace product we rarely “need”.
There are also health implications. Like most plastics, those straws contain Bisphenol A (BPA) which mimics the activity of hormones in the body, such as estrogen, linked to many serious health risks.
With all single-use disposable products, comes the disposal end. Plastic straws are rarely recycled; they don’t biodegrade so they stay around and accumulate. According to Ocean Conservancy, straws and stirrers were the fifth most common marine plastic debris found during their 2015 coastal cleanup (cigarette butts #1). Researchers estimate 90% of our marine life and seabirds have now ingested plastics.
Luckily, this is an environmental menace we can easily avoid. If you don’t need a straw, don’t use one. When eating out, simply say “no straw please” or have more of an impact by requesting the restaurant or bar only serve straws upon request. While some restaurants have switched back to paper straws, best case practices is to avoid all unnecessary disposables. If you like straws or have a physical disability requiring one, consider buying reusable stainless steel, glass, or bamboo straws. At the very minimum, at least buy paper straws – yes, they are still out there.
If by chance, my powers of persuasion are lacking, I challenge you to Google “sea turtle plastic straw” and see the consequences of one wayward plastic straw – It’s horrifying. If for no other reason, say “no to the straw” to save our marine life. With this one single action, we will all enjoy a much cleaner environment – our air, land and oceans.