Why are Plastic Straws Creating such a Stir?

Used for teas, lemonades, sodas, coffee, boba, and any other beverage you can think of, the straw may seem innocuous, but this small plastic item is causing quite the stir.

The straw was used as far back as ancient Sumeria for drinking beer. It was not the plastic type you can find at today’s restaurants, but the first known version was a gold tube inlaid with the blue stone, lapis lazuli. There were other known ancient versions made out of various materials such as metal, but the most modern ones were made out of paper until 1960 when plastic straws entered the market.

The plastic straw was cheap to make and soon became widely popular. Now, it is used in most beverage items. It is estimated that each person in the U.S. uses approximately 1.6 straws a day. That is a total of 500 million straws daily. Just to put this into perspective, imagine filling one hundred twenty-seven buses every day with straws, and you have a picture of the enormous waste being produced by a product that is used once and will not be recycled.

What makes this plastic product such an environmental nuisance, besides the mere quantity of debris, is that it is lightweight and can be blown from picnic tables, trash dumps, etc. depositing them everywhere, including in rivers and oceans. It has been reported to be one of the top ten items picked up on beach cleanups.

This non-biodegradable item is very hazardous for marine life as it entangles them or is consumed by them. Scientists have dissected seabirds, with stomachs filled with plastic, and rescued turtles, with straws up their noses. One study calculates that in the year 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the sea.

The straws are estimated to take no less than 500 years to decompose. This means that if companies, cities, or citizens do not take action, a catastrophic problem will exist in the near future. Luckily, cities such as Seattle have put a ban on plastic straws and utensils that will take effect in July 2018.

Photo Credits: Chris Jordan

“Seattle is a super-progressive city, and we had a lot of support for phasing some of these things out,” SPU spokesperson Becca Fong told the Seattle Times.

Lollicup® USA Inc., a premium supplier of disposable goods, has a progressive eco-friendly policy. They are gearing up to be the first supplier to offer to the foodservice industry paper and PLA straws, which take the starches from corn, sugarcane, cassava, or beet plants and turns them into a renewable resource that can be composted back into the earth. CEO and Founder Alan Yu said, “We are striving to make a change in the industry by offering compostable items for straws that will be better for the environment and for our future.”

The situation is dire, but with cities and companies taking action, coupled with organizations that are creating awareness, it is not hopeless.