The war on plastic waste is in full swing, and plastic straws appear to be the first to fall.
You'd think these ubiquitous tubes of plastic would be easily vanquished: they're one of the top items found strewn on beaches and in the stomachs of marine animals. And they seem like they would be easy enough to phase out without anybody minding. Right?
Not so. Some people are already protesting the disappearance of straws from bars, restaurants, and even events hosted by major beverage companies. The complaints run from the legitimate to the ridiculous, but overall, they don't make a strong enough case to let the straw stick around.
The pro-straw arguments, distilled:
- Straws are just "more fun to drink out of."
- You're grossed out by putting your mouth on the edge of a restaurant's cup. (What about their cutlery and plates?)
- You use straws to keep painfully cold or tooth-staining liquids away from your sensitive pearly whites. (We'll give you that one.)
What these complaints have in common is that they're solved by the same easy solution: reusable straws. Reusable straws are available in a variety of materials, from easy-to-clean stainless steel to soft silicone for those with cold-sensitive teeth, and usually for $1 or less per straw. Most come with a brush that make them easily washed out, and you can throw them in your car, or one in each of your favorite bags, and forget about it until you find yourself strawless in Seattle.
There is only one argument in favor of plastic straws that we can't shoot down, and that's one made by disability advocate Pam Duncan-Glancy, a resident of Scotland, which may soon be the first straw-free country in Europe. Duncan-Glancy points out that straws are essential to many people with disabilities, making drinking in public easier and more dignified. An inflexible metal or silicone reusable straw might not be a good fit for individuals with difficulty controlling their bite, she points out, and suggesting people buy their own straws in bulk passes on yet another cost to a community that already faces a largely inaccessible world.
In this case, we're with Duncan-Glancy in saying that restaurants should keep a few plastic straws around for clients that absolutely need them. Meanwhile, we should continue to push for manufacturers to create better biodegradable materials, ones that are flexible and sturdy enough to drink from, but green enough to be easily composted. (Corn-oil products are showing early promise, but they need to be composted in a special facility, not in your backyard pile.)
If you're still holding onto your plastic straws with a death grip, it may change things if you know that when their plastic break down, their pieces impact every part of the oceanic food chain — from small fish, to coral reefs, to giant whales. Maybe the fact that the chemicals from plastic could make men infertile (yikes) will get you to loosen your grip. Or does the fact that plastic could end up in the water we drink, bottled or not, and the seafood you're eating, bring it a little closer to home?
If not, we're not afraid to say: that really sucks. For you, and for everyone else.