In this article, I do my best to clarify the situation surrounding plastic straws.
We will find out:
- Why plastic straws are unrecyclable
- What their environmental impact is
- Why the ban plastic straws?
- Alternatives to plastic straws
- Which cities and establishments have banned or are banning plastic straws
Wow, that is a lot of plastic straw topics! Don’t be scared, please keep reading!
Why are plastic straws unrecyclable?
Most plastic straws are made from a plastic called polypropylene, and while this is a number 5 RIC (not sure what this is, check out my in-depth recycling article here), they are widely unacceptable in community recycling programs.
Why Is THis?
Much of the sorting at the recycling plant is done by machines. Plastic straws are so small and light-weight, they literally fall through the cracks. They drop through the sorting screens and mix with other materials that are too small to separate, getting disposed of as garbage.
What does this mean?
Plastic straws are ending up in landfills where they take up to 200 years, yes that is 200 years to degrade (break down into smaller pieces).
To add insult to injury, the degrading of plastic releases chemicals that are toxic to wildlife and the environment. Great (note sarcasm).
So that’s what happens to plastic straws on land. We still need to talk about…
As we just discussed, plastic straws do not break down completely. They may break down into smaller pieces over time, but they never disappear.
What does this mean for our ocean life?
Well, it sucks (pun intended). Plastic straws are one of the most found ocean litter. That’s not too hard to believe. Think about it, beaches often have overfilled garbages on a busy day. It doesn’t take too much wind to blow the lightweight straws out to sea. And that’s just accidental litter, there’s also litter left on the ground on purpose by, shall we say, careless individuals.
All of these displaced plastic straws have a detrimental effect on life in and around the ocean. A couple specific examples are seabirds and sea turtles.
Seabirds are particularly affected as plastic straws can be easily picked up and swallowed, which can choke and suffocate the bird.
Sea turtles are also negatively affected by plastic pollution, including straws. Want to see for yourself? Check out this video which launched the crusade against plastic straws.
Why The Ban On plastic Straws?
So we now know that straws are just the tip of the plastic iceberg that is harming our marine life. Why not ban ALL disposable plastics? Well, baby steps young grasshopper, baby steps.
Plastic straws are an actionable item. With about 9 million tons of plastic in our oceans, straws making up just 2000 of those tons, the straw ban alone is not going to get our plastic pollution under control. BUT it is a step in the right direction, a reasonable step at that.
In the grand scheme of things, ditching plastic straws and opting for reusable straws are not going to have a huge effect on your everyday life. This is a minimal change that almost anyone can make.
Even though this is a seemingly small change, these bans make headlines in newspapers and online and are talked about on TV, which brings attention to the very real problem of plastic pollution.
Will the straw ban solve all of our plastic pollution problems? No, but if more people are aware of the destruction that plastic pollution causes, it could very well be a conversation starter to tackle other kinds of plastic pollution. The straw ban is simply the beginning step to a bigger conversation about our deteriorating oceans and marine life.
Alternatives to Plastic Straws
- Bamboo: Sustainable and fast-growing, makes for great-looking straws.
- Glass: Easy to tell if it’s clean. Comes with various options such as colour, length, and diameter. Look for ones made of borosilicate (Pyrex).
- Stainless Steel: Looks cool and are cheap. Need I say more?
Stay tuned for thorough, in-depth product reviews on these three types of reusable straws.
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Who is ditching plastic straws?
Want to support regions and businesses that ban plastic straws? I got you. Here is a list of cities (yes, whole cities!) and establishments that are or will be banning plastic straws.
- Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA
- Concord, Massachusetts, USA
- Provincetown, Massachusetts, USA
- Andover, Massachusetts, USA
- Brookline, Massachusetts, USA
- Santa Cruz, California, USA
- Alameda, California, USA
- Malibu, California, USA
- Davis, California, USA
- San Luis Obispo, California, USA
- Seattle, Washington, USA
- Miami Beach, Florida, USA
- Fort Myers, Florida, USA
- Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada in 2019
- McDonald’s, UK and Ireland
- Burger King, UK
- A&W, All locations by 2019
- Starbucks, All locations by 2020
- Ikea, All locations by 2020
These lists are growing, slowly but surely. There are also some independent restaurants and businesses using reusable straws, so be sure to show your support locally too!
Please leave any comments or questions you may have. I love hearing from you!