You’ve probably heard that straws are the devil. Yes, those plastic tubes you use to suck up smoothies or fiddle with while you wait for your Tinder date are a hellish hot topic, and they’re finally seeing their demise in Western countries. The UK is going to ban them. Vancouver, BC — aspiring “greenest city in the world” — passed a straw ban effective June 1, 2019. Just last month, gai Paris set the date for their last straw.
You might think I’d be in favour of legislating against these trash tubes. And you’d be WRONG.
If you’ve been following my Environmentalist from Hell column, you might think I’d be in favour of legislating against these trash tubes. And you’d be WRONG. I think the straw ban is dumb. I hate it.
Well, to be more accurate, I hate the hype.
Where did this start? Well, when the Commonwealth Nations met in April, UK Prime Minister Teresa May asked other member countries to join her in banning plastic straws, cotton buds (a.k.a. Q-tips), and stir sticks. I lived in London 10 years ago, and what that place needs more than a straw ban is a deposit scheme for cans and bottles so their public parks’ rubbish bins don’t overflow with recyclables every sunny day. Oh, they just started one? In 2018?! Seriously. Eff off, wankers.
Why do I want to scream when I see a city council debating the use of straws? Because it’s not addressing the bigger issue. WE HAVE A PROBLEM WITH PLASTIC!!! There are so many other things that could/should be banned before straws. It’s virtue signaling. It’s ableist. It’s lazy environmentalism. It’s hypocritical for a company like Starbucks to get rid of straws like they’re doing good for the world, when they’re one of the biggest contributors to waste: look around any major city and you’ll see hundreds of people carrying their litter lattes.
It’s virtue signaling. It’s ableist. It’s lazy environmentalism.
It’s a sad reality that sea creatures are feeding on plastic. And 32 million people have watched that video of a straw being pulled out of a turtle’s nose. That video touched people’s hearts, and they want to do something so it never happens again. Great! Wonderful! Refuse straws in your daily life. That’s what I do. But if you‘re refusing straws and then getting on your high horsepower vehicle to pop down to a coffee shop and grab a plastic to-go sippy-cup lid and a probably unrecyclable plastic-lined paper cup, and eating meat and dairy for breakfast, lunch, and dinner while you’re at it? YOU’RE NOT HELPING!
But Sara, you say, what about the garbage island in the Pacific? Doesn’t that contain a whole bunch of straws? NO, IT DOESN’T. If you look into it, nearly half of the plastic waste in the Pacific is from commercial fishing: including ropes, oyster spacers, eel traps, crates, and baskets. A bunch of it is from the aftermath of the 2011 Tsunami in Japan. Some people blame Asia for creating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, as the writing on a third of the objects studied has Japanese writing, and another third has Chinese. But THIS IS NOT THE ONLY GARBAGE PATCH IN THE WORLD.
Ok, I’m going to stop my shouty caps and settle down. I’d love people to transfer their passion for straw bans to things like Meatless Mondays, or bike-commuting, or, better yet, demanding their governments actually hold manufacturers accountable for wasteful packaging.
Every year, millions of metric tonnes of plastic are created (335 million in 2016), and less than 9% of that has ever been recycled. But, Sara, what about biodegradable plastics? Why don’t we just switch to them? No. Just stop. They don’t live up to the hype, according to scientists. “It’s well-intentioned but wrong,” the UN Environment Programme’s chief scientist Jacqueline McGlade told the Guardian:
A lot of plastics labelled biodegradable, like shopping bags, will only break down in temperatures of 50C and that is not the ocean. They are also not buoyant, so they’re going to sink, so they’re not going to be exposed to UV and break down.
What we need to do is massively change our culture. We need to stop relying on plastics, of any kind. There’s no easy way to do this. You’re going to have to carry a metal water bottle around. You’re going to have to take 10 minutes to drink your coffee at a coffee shop or bring a reusable cup. You’re going to have to bring your own bag to the store. Change is hard, but you can get used to it.
We need to stop relying on plastics, of any kind. There’s no easy way to do this.
Sure a straw ban is a tiny step in the right direction. Stop using straws. Good on ya! Just stop patting yourself on the back about it and start making some real changes. Get your governments to work on manufacturing reforms, better transit, better tap water, and a ban on those plastic water bottles whose manufacture requires more water than they hold.
As I write this, I’m sweating because it’s the height of summer — global warming is upon us and temperatures all over the world are setting record highs. And guess what, plastic junk isn’t just polluting our oceans and hurting cute turtles. It’s also releasing a lot of climate-change-causing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
Setting single use item bans for years in the future is futile. These laws should have been made decades ago. And we need to make changes in our own lives right now.
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