The Last Straw: Thoughts on the Plastic Straw Ban
If you’ve been following the news, especially news surrounding environmental consciousness, you’ve probably seen people advocating to reduce the use of plastic straws. The movement really began to gain traction when, earlier this year, Starbucks announced its plan to phase plastic straws out entirely.
Many people praised this move as an eco-friendly decision by a big company, and other companies around the world have expressed interest in doing similar things. Now, some merchants are only giving out plastic straws if the customer specifically asks for it.
However, there has been some pushback on this movement, and much of the criticism is valid. Here are some things to think about the next time you consider the so-called “plastic straw ban.”
It’s Not as Eco-Friendly as It Seems
Many people will point to the fact that there are about 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic garbage in the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” a collection of garbage floating between Hawaii and California. By cutting down on non-recyclable items such as plastic straws, it seems like people could make an impact on that garbage. The fact of the matter is, however, that plastic straws are by far the least of humanity’s worries when it comes to ocean plastic.
There are 79,000 metric tons of plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch alone. More than half of it is from abandoned fishing gear, not consumer plastics. Although the amount of garbage in the ocean is definitely something that needs to be addressed, banning or restricting plastic straws won’t actually do much to fix it. Like with many issues, the problem is much bigger.
It Can Actively Hurt People
Much of the criticism surrounding the move to ban or restrict plastic straws has to do with how many people use plastic straws to effectively navigate life. Many people who are elderly and/or disabled use straws to make their lives easier. Some of them must use plastic straws specifically, as paper straws require more effort to use. Much of the time, people with poor muscle control aren’t able to use paper straws effectively, so they have to use plastic.
Advocates for disabled people argue that it’s not an option for many disabled people; it’s a requirement. Although the caveat of giving straws to people who ask is a valid attempt to find a middle ground, it can add to the shame that many disabled people feel for taking up more space or resources than their able counterparts. Regardless of attempts to make the straw ban more accessible to disabled people, it almost always ends up harming some of the most vulnerable members of the community.
You Have to Start Somewhere?
Back to the scale of the issue. Straws are such a small part of the single-use plastic waste equation. (In fact, much of the news coverage on the matter can be attributed simply to how silly it sounds.) You have to start somewhere, advocates say. But is the plastic straw ban just distracting us from larger efforts? Statistics on the impact of a plastic straw ban are speculative at best. And even if stats are legitimate, in the face of climate change, oceans clogged with garbage, and billions of tons of other single use plastics, a ban on straws feels like a matter of too little too late.
All-in-all, we do feel that the ideas behind banning plastic straws are good. Ecological movements are important, especially as the climate continues to change. However, in practice, refusing to stock plastic straws, or even only giving straws to people who ask, is only harming people. Plastic straws aren’t the biggest problem facing the planet. If we really want to make a change, we need to focus on bigger things.
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