According to the Last Plastic Straw, America uses enough straws every day to ‘wrap around the earth’ two and a half times. In numbers, that’s around 500 million a day or 175 billion a year.
That’s a lot of straws. We love them, and we use them a lot.
Where’s the harm? Of course, straws are made from plastic and we know that this can have an adverse impact on the environment.
The Problem of Single Use Plastic
You don’t hear of anyone reusing a straw. You suck up your drink and discard it along with the container. That’s why we use so many.
According to cleanup organizations, plastic straws are one of the top ten items that are picked up off the beach by teams of volunteers hoping to reduce the impact on our oceans.
Here are some facts about plastic that might make you think twice about ordering a straw with your next drink:
- Plastic doesn’t biodegrade like paper or other natural substances. It photodegrades, reducing into smaller and more toxic substances over time, which can pollute the environment.
- It can take a straw over 400 years to break down and they’re the most common debris that divers come across when they swim in the ocean.
- When you think how long a straw can lie around in the environment causing harm, also consider the fact that the average time it is used by a consumer is just 20 minutes. That’s not a great return on investment.
- Scientists in Costa Rica came across a sea turtle they thought was struggling and suspected it had a parasitic worm. When a veterinary surgeon investigated, he found a straw lodged in the turtle’s airway.
The popularity of straws is a recent phenomena. When plastics were being developed for all sorts of things in the late 50s and 60s, combined with the increasing popularity of fast food restaurants, it seemed the humble straw was a good thing. The problem is that it is rarely recycled and often ends up in our waterways, contaminating our oceans.
It's not just the waste product that causes an environmental problem. According to the evidence, the production of straws causes the release of enormous amounts of carbon emissions. For a thousand kilograms, emissions equate to 3,530 kg of CO2.
Don’t forget the health impact, either. The plastic from straws can contain BPA which is a synthetic estrogen.
What You Need to Do
Ask yourself this question: Do you really need a plastic straw to enjoy your drink?
We don’t use a straw for our coffee, after all. As with many environment issues, the solution is right in front of us. Cutting down the damage means not using a straw in the first place. The less you do this, the less ends up in our oceans.
Restaurants, fast food outlets and other businesses that sell drinks can all help by not automatically giving out straws to their customers. The good news is that many are starting to do this already.
We’ve become so used to straws that we don’t think about their impact on the world around us. If you can’t live without one, then perhaps you can think about one of the many alternatives. You are now able to get glass and bamboo straws which you can reuse and carry around with you.
Either way, it’s on all of us to reduce the amount of plastic we’re polluting the world with. The next time you go into a fast food restaurant or cocktail bar, or your kid asks for a straw, just say no. You never know, you might be saving the life of a sea turtle somewhere in the world.