The end of plastic straws is nigh. Back in March, Louis’ pub announced they were ditching straws— unless requested—and switching to a compostable brand. And just this summer Starbucks boldly proclaimed they were going to discontinue use of plastic straws by 2020.
How did the seemingly innocuous straw become public enemy number one, and is their exile entirely positive?
This straw ban comes at a time when there is a great divide of public opinion on pollution and the changing climate. Many members of the more conscious culture are moving towards greater efforts in reducing their individual footprints. This reduction often comes in the form of reusables — reusable bags, reusable water bottles, and now, reusable straws.
Reusable straws, along with a ban on the plastic variety, can save the planet and may protect sea life from the many cases of plastic proliferation happening in their watery home. However, there appears to be a small oversight in the move to an all-out ban on plastic drink tubes versus the reduction of their use.
Individuals with differing abilities have raised alarm in regards to the straw crack down. Straws are a lifeline for many in the community, whose members may not have the coordination, control or ability to drink freely from a glass. Plastic straws give them access, and without them, many individual’s daily lives will be impacted.
Now, for about 10 to 15 dollars, you can buy glass, stainless steel or silicone straws from Amazon. If you order a drink during the straw prohibition and find that a bendy tube is needed to complete the beverage, you now have the ability whip out a handy reusable straw. This surely is perfect for people of all abilities, right? Well, no, that’s not necessarily the case.
For some individuals, these straws can be dangerous. Glass straws can break, and they along with metal straws, can cause significant injuries to people with tremors or other conditions that affect coordination. In fact, Starbucks banned the sale of metal straws in 2016 after reports of significant injuries to children who used the devices.
Paper straws, on the other hand, may not hold up against the liquid for an extended length of time and perform poorly in hot beverages. Silicone straws — along with all of their reusable brothers and sisters — need to be cleaned properly, or they will harbor an array of microbes. This could be detrimental to someone who is immunocompromised — meaning they are unable to fight off common bacteria or viruses.
The thing about the straw ban is that it isn’t necessarily going to put a dent in plastic pollution, either. It is questionable that any individual, no matter how many straws they reuse, can change the global state of pollution in this way. It’s a little like bailing out a sinking boat — all your best efforts just don’t get you very far.
Plastic pollution is a kraken-esque monster and is much larger than any one person’s efforts. Corporation need to step up and make serious changes to their policies and production practices in order to turn this ship around.
We need the industries themselves to address the plastic problem — and that isn’t just pledging to ditch straws. Starbucks’ plastic problem has permeated their whole beverage lineup. It also appears that the molded lids, which were rolled out to replace the need for straws, may even contain more plastic than their predecessors.
Many of us have the desire to create change and conserve what we have on this planet, but we need to think about the broad effects of our efforts. We need to assess if these attempts are resulting in actual positive change or if they are just making us feel better.
If we fail to look at the larger picture, we become ignorant to the possible negative effects of a seemingly positive movement.
Erin Matthews / Opinions Editor
Photo: Heywood Yu