Plastic straws are so common, we don’t even think about them anymore. We get them with our lattes, with the complimentary water you weren’t planning to drink anyway, and in virtually every drink served anywhere.
The problem with plastic straws isn’t just the fact that is a single use plastic, and thus a waste of our valuable resources. It’s also the fact that plastic doesn’t degrade, and the very first plastic straw slurped on and discarded in 1870 is still here with us today.
Since 1870, there has been a lot of straws. Assuming the average person lives to be 71, and uses the average of 1.6 straws a day (after their first year of life) that’s a staggering 40,880 straws. Per person.
Disability aside, there’s no great reason to be the ancient ancestor whose only claim to fame was leaving a giant pile of unnecessary plastic trash for their great great great grand kids to deal with.
Besides being unnecessary for most of us, plastic straws are a particular nuisance because they are dangerous to wildlife, and surprisingly, are big emitters of methane. When exposed to the sun, plastic begins to degrade, and as it degrades, it emits greenhouse gases.
To make straws even more problematic, they’re not recyclable. Straws are too light to go through the recycling system, and are frequently picked up and carried by the wind into the ocean.
This is a big deal because they are then swallowed by wildlife, killing or injuring them. With 40,000+ straws per person, that’s a lot of sea turtles, birds, and other animals dying for no particular reason.
What’s the solution?
The best solution (environmentally speaking) is not to use them. Let the wait staff know right away that you don’t want a straw at all, so it won’t be discarded.
If you’re pulling a face at the idea of never using a straw again, don’t worry. While it’s true that no straw at all is the best for the environment, there are plenty of great options that are gentler on the environment.
Your second best choice is to buy a reusable straw, such as a glass or metal one, that you can bring with you. Reusable straws obviously don’t leave as much plastic pollution, and if you get a few years of life out of it, will have a lower carbon footprint as well.
If you want to have disposable straws handy, paper or bamboo are both better options than plastic because they will degrade.
Obviously it is hard to learn how to say no, or to remember to bring your own straw, but it will make a difference. This is one reusable I can really get behind.