Is A Plastic Straw Ban Really So Important?

If you have been paying attention to the news lately, you may have noticed lots of talk about Plastic Straw bans. But what’s the point? I mean straws represent less than 0.1% of all the plastic waste we throw away. How can a ban possibly have any effect? 

Plastic Straws – The Victim or The Villian?

With the exception of certain disabled people who have a genuine claim for using straws, there is no rational explanation I can think off in defence of straws?

Humans as we know, evolved from Apes. Apes, in turn, evolved from more basic forms of mammals and so on. Somewhere along the way, mammals developed lips and it is these very special appendages that make drinking without a straw possible.

Humans being humans, however, we decided that something better than lips was required and so we conceived of something better.

The very first evidence of a straw being used for drinking was actually first discovered in ancient Eygpt, as a way to avoid drinking in the sediment at the bottom of a beer bottle. Since then, straws seem to have been in constant use. Various materials have been used including straw, wood and even metal. The first commercial straw was invented by Marvin C. Stone in 1888, made from waxed paper.

The End of An Era

For more than 5000 years then, straws have been used by humans in some form or other with no impact on our daily lives. Then, in the 1960’s plastic manufacturers figured out a way to make cheap and plentiful plastic straws. 5000 years of blissful straw use was about to come to an end.

It is 2018 and it is estimated that more than a billion of straws are made, used and thrown away, every day.

Spoon straws, bubble tea straws and multi-coloured straws. There are bendy ones, long ones, wide ones and of course extendable ones! Billions and billions of plastic straws and not a single one is being recycled. That’s right, 100% of them end up in a landfill, the incinerator or the oceans.


But is it right that we vilify straws in the way they are being now? Are bans really required and more importantly, will it have any impact on plastic pollution?

Plastic Straw Bans

Right now there is a charge around the world, to ban straws. Famous brands including McDonald’s, The Marriott Hotel chain and the Queen of England are already planning to ban drinking straws. Every year more and more nations including the United Kingdom, the European Union and several States in the US have or are about to propose bans. Here in Taiwan, a ban on all plastic straws was announced recently. The Taiwanese ban starts by banning the in-store use of straws at larger stores, beginning on the 1st January 2019. This will be expanded to include all of the Island by 2025.

But what is the point of banning straws?

After all, they represent a very small part (Some estimates put it at less than 0.025% of the total) of all plastic pollution!

Throwaway Society

Plastic straws have become a poster child for our ‘Throwaway Society” and in my opinion, rightly so. A plastic straw is a useful but unnecessary item that has become ubiquitous with waste. If you think straws are a necessity then ask yourself, how many straws do you have at home for when you need a drink?

I’ll bet the answer is none.

Plastic straws are not just unnecessary and wasteful, they are doing actual damage, to our health and also to the health of our planet.

Plastic Straw Turtle Nose
Credit @ChrisFiggener

Consider this;

  • Of the billions of straws thrown away every year, almost none are recycled.
  • Many straws are made from polystyrene which is well known for its inability to be recycled and propensity to carry toxins once it enters the waste stream, poisoning animals in the process.
  • Straws are small and can easily be swallowed by animals harming them, as this photo by Christine Figgener demonstrates.


It’s Time To Take A Stand

I believe that plastic straws represent something very wrong in our society. But if we can kick our addiction with plastic straws then maybe this can act as a stepping stone to reducing the use of other more damaging plastics. Single use plastic items like plastic bags, coffee cups, utensils and the thousands of other products clogging up our shores and rivers.

Here are some things you can do to help speed along the process of getting rid of straws where you live:

  1. When you order a drink say, “Without a straw, please!” Or as they say in Taiwan, 我不要吸管 (Wǒ bù yào xīguǎn)
  2. Request your local restaurants to implement a “Straw on request” policy or offer reusable straws instead.
  3. Ask your friends and family to join you.
  4. Write to politicians, ask them what they are doing to help in your local area.
  5. If you need a straw, consider your own bamboo, metal or glass reusable versions.

Like anything worthwhile, it takes effort to make a change. So be a part of the change and see how powerful one voice can really be.

For more ways to reduce your eco-footprint, check out the One Brown Planet sustainable toolkit.

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