Two Sides, One Issue: The straw debate
September 21, 2018
Plastic straws have sparked much controversy in recent months because of the amount of waste that they are bring into the environment especially the ocean. Many brands and even some cities have decided to ban plastic straws: Seattle is currently the largest city that has banned plastic straws and companies like Starbucks “pledged to phase out the use of plastic straws”.
While the plastic straw pollunts earth’s environment, plastic straw companies provide jobs that keep the unemployment rate down said CNN. Furthermore, according to CNN, plastic straws cost 5 to 6 times less than paper straws and are considered more hygienic because they are disposable.
The paper straws however are less durable, and get soggy, are biodegradable said Ocean Conservancy. Yet, plastic straws continue to be more widely used than paper straws.
Environmentalists debate whether plastic straws are the most important thing to focus on. Plastic straws only account for 0.025% of the plastic that is ending up in our oceans. Contrarily, 8 million tons of plastic flows into the ocean every day. The plastic straw production forces companies to do more oil and gas extraction and use more electricity to power the plastic plant production. Environmentalists are putting their focus on plastic straws because, for most people, they are a unnecessary luxury that could be done without. The discussion around plastic straws continues to be an important one as politicians and scientists analyze the pros and cons of their usage.
Plastic straws should be banned
A plastic straw ban would not completely solve the problem of pollution in America, but it is a public step in the right direction, with the hope of promoting more environmentally conscious lifestyle choices. The United States makes up five percent of the world’s population, consumes 30 percent of the world’s resources, and creates 30 percent of the world’s waste according to The Last Plastic Straw. In order to combat this country’s plastic gluttony, there needs to be plastic reform starting with straws and eventually with all plastic that poses a threat to the environment.
Start Small with the twin cities and see where it goes. Maybe it would get more attention. ”
— Seth Grewe
From a study conducted by Australian scientists Denise Hardesty and Chris Wilcox, there could be approximately 8.3 billion plastic straws around the coastlines of the world, a large portion of which coming from the United States. According to One Green Planet, over 1,000,000 marine birds and around 100,000 other marine animals, such as fish and sea turtles, die from plastic consumption every year. While this is only 4 percent of the 9 million tons of plastic that are added to the oceans every year, straws are especially harmful because of their size and shape. Because of how long straws are, they can get stuck in a bird’s esophagus and restrict the airway, causing the bird to choke.
The consumption of plastic is a major issue because once it gets in, it never gets out. According to One Green Planet, the petroleum bi-product polypropylene, which straws are made out of, does not naturally decompose in the environment. Instead, it decomposes into smaller and smaller pieces, and accumulates into large quantities making it easier to get into the food chain. Although fish consume relatively small the pieces of plastic it can travel quickly up the food chain as each secondary and tertiary consumer is consuming all of the plastic inside their prey. Humans are not immune to the consumption of microplastics either, and according to thelastplasticstraw.org, microplastics can be found in the body of every human, especially in fat cells and breast milk. According to Plastic Pollution Coalition, the chemicals that leach into the body from plastics are linked to causing cancers, birth defects, and other health issues. Moreover, these chemicals get into the groundwater and then into lakes and rivers.
Is holding onto the freedom of the straw worth destroying the natural order to the environment? Some say that the abolition of plastic straws would detrimentally affect disabled people, however reusable straws are not that overly expensive. Yes, even after the ban of plastic straws, we will still be hurting the environment almost as badly, but the point is not to solve the issue through one law. If it were that simple, it would have been done already. The point is to create many many laws that will chip away at our plastic gluttony and make the world a safer place one step at a time. Which side of history are you on?
Plastic straws shouldn’t be banned
Recently, the use of plastic straws has been a hotly contested topic among environmentalists and concerned Americans. In the spirit of eliminating waste, plastic straws appeared to be a way to further the cause: straws aren’t essential to the dining experience, and by banning them, oceans, streets, and general society would theoretically benefit. The cause of improving the environment is an easy one to get behind, but beneath the surface, restricting plastic straws from the American public does more harm than good.
First and foremost, the source of how many straws Americans used per day is, simply put, unreliable. According to the New York Times, the frequently-cited figure that 500 million straws are used every day in America comes from “a survey conducted by a 9 year old” in 2011. Objectively, this is problematic. Even if true, the fact that data used as reasoning to remove such a heavily-used piece of the dining experience comes from a child yet to reach the fifth grade is a major red flag. Instead, a more accurate figure would be that Americans use roughly 390 million straws a day, as reported by, the Freedonia Group. Not only is the number of straws used significantly smaller than the previous inaccurate number, but the fact that Americans are being misled by faulty numbers undermines the integrity of the argument to remove straws in the first place. Starting the conversation of protecting the environment is important, but starting it strong by attacking a major pollutant instead of a minor one is the right first step, so instead, attention should be focused on getting rid of bottle caps. As reported by NPR, straws account for roughly 7 percent of plastics in America per unit. By comparison, bottle caps make up more than 17 percent making straws a far inferior pollutant by weight, according to NPR.
If everywhere had reusable straws that would be much more expensive and… just wasteful”
— Ellie Hoppe
Furthermore, the proposed replacement of plastic straws is not viable. According to the New York Post, the more environment-friendly replacement straw made from plant-based materials take “forever” to decompose. Once they inevitably enter the ocean, they are “just as likely” to be harmful to sea animals and plant life as regular straws. The straws would have a paper-like texture, which would become soggy, resulting in the average user using more than one per sitting. Even though paper is a renewable source, the amount of time needed to make up for the amount of trees that would be inevitably lost would be unproportional. Environmentalists should not try to fix one environmental problem by furthering another.
Moreover, outlawing straws would take them away from people who rely on them, like disabled people. Some disabilities force Americans to use straws to drink, and without them, they cannot do so. By not considering disabled people, advocates for banning straws lose credibility and add yet another reason why straws should be here to stay.
There is room for change. The anti-straw movement is picking up steam, but it is up to able-bodied people to make sure straws are available to all who need them. Talk to friends, representatives, and environmentalists. Refocus the passion for change towards a more environmentally detrimental material, such as bottle caps. Otherwise, they may be gone before it’s too late.