The prevalence and size of the Earth’s oceanic garbage patches act as irrefutable evidence that we are grappling with a huge waste problem. An examination of the contents of the garbage patches shows that the main source of the problem is disposable plastic.
Plastic never fully disintegrates; instead it breaks down, polluting the water through the leaching of chemicals and harming marine and land wildlife that mistake the tiny pieces for food.
While plastic is used in a large number of products, single-use plastic straws, a seemingly innocuous item, is proving to be a major contributor to the amount of plastic waste being created.
Originally made of gold and other hardy and reusable materials, straws boast a history dating back approximately 5,000 years. Over the course of time the materials used to make straws has evolved from semi-precious stones to wood, rye, and paper. The single-use plastic option so popular today was introduced in the 1960’s.
The use of disposable plastic straws can be seen any time you venture into your local café or favourite restaurant. Cold drinks are automatically served with a plastic straw, a practice that is now understood to be a part of the daily creation and use of approximately 500,000,000 plastic straws globally.
As the world looks for ways to reduce waste, the need for single-use plastic straws is being called into question. Campaigns like “Straws Suck” which was organized by the Pacific chapter of the Surfrider Foundation have found success encouraging local business owners in communities such as Tofino, British Columbia, to stop using plastic straws.
While some calls to action involve grand gestures and seemingly difficult lifestyle changes, making the switch from plastic to paper straws can be done quite easily. Reusable straws made of corn, stainless steel, paper or bamboo, are often sold in local department stores. Carrying them with you allows you the opportunity to decline a plastic straw at a restaurant, while enticing others to do the same. It can also work to encourage business owners to change their practices, prompting them to look for ways to make more environmentally conscious decisions.
Choosing straws made of reusable material does not mean that plastic straws will soon become a thing of the past. But the impact of a small change in behaviour, when embraced by many, can and will have a large impact on the amount of harmful disposable plastic being thrown into our oceans, parks and landfill sites.