If You Want to Clean the Ocean, Banning Straws Isn’t Enough

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On an environmental level, one of the most progressive things we have done in 2018 was dealing with plastic straws. Over a dozen cities, as well as California, have banned or limited the supply of plastic straws. This has sparked many corporate giants such as Disney and Starbucks to do the same. Under the #StopSucking campaign, many people like rock’s Mick Jagger, football star Tom Brady, as well as those mentioned companies working against single-use straws.


The idea behind this campaign is that people will start contributing to the conversation at large, particularly on runaway plastics pollution. Why? Because they know – and others have pointed out – banning straws is far from making a dent on reducing waste. Especially since we dump so much plastic out into the environment every year.


To put it into perspective, we’re spilling about 8.8 million tons of plastic each year. That’s roughly the same as dumping five grocery bags full of plastic all across a foot of coastline in 192 countries.


This means that limiting and banning plastic straws – while helpful – is still pretty small when compared to the larger issue at hand.


And we should be invested in it. Especially since there are many studies now showing that synthetics are not just finding their way in the animals of the sea, but also into us. This has provided researchers with just how impactful plastic is impacting our health. It’s not just in the ocean anymore, it’s in our drinking water, the seafood and sea salt. Some even have evidence that it’s in the air we are breathing.


Feeling uneasy? We should be.


But to understand the full magnitude of this dilemma it’s important to understand the history of plastic, specifically the explosive use of plastic bottles. Back in 2004, companies produced roughly 239 billion plastic bottles. That number doubled by 2017 to 494 billion and the trend doesn’t seem to be dying down.


The production of bottles is certainly dangerous, but the larger concern is how plastic is treated after returned to the company. Most bottles and plastic items these days are made out of recyclable polyethylene terephthalate (PET), but only 9.5 percent of those items are recycled. The rest is either incinerated or taking up space in landfills and other natural environments.


So, where do straws fit into all of this? Well, for one, they are plastic and do contribute to the larger issue. But plastic straws provide a small step to get people to be talking about this issue. In the US, we use millions of these straws. But while we use all these straws we’ve also said collectively that we’re willing to live without straws or switch to paper straws. Those thoughts have been further reinforced by video campaigns showing images of whales, and other sea life struggling with plastic waste.


This has sparked companies to spring into action, making pledges to recycle a larger percentage of their bottles while some companies have banned plastic straws entirely. But that is a pretty small step and some people believe that that isn’t enough. Thankfully, this time around – thanks in part to those campaigns – that more people are more invested in this issue than before.


The road to dealing with plastic issues will be a long road, but in the end, the more people invested in this issue and discuss this issue, the more we can spark change in the future.

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