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The world is using more and more plastic each year, polluting our oceans and leading to faster deterioration of our environment. Straws made of plastic are one of the most common ways we endanger our environment – drinking without them is entirely possible for most people, and yet we still use them.
Learn more about plastic pollution related to straws.
What is the Problem with Plastic Straws?
Straws are a piece of plastic often too small to be recycled that people often use in their drinks. They seem harmless – and who doesn’t like straws, right? But, as mentioned, they are one of the biggest pollutants of our environment. They end up in landfills and oceans, seemingly never to decompose.
This is why many companies are refusing to use them anymore. They are replacing them with more eco-friendly solutions or ditching them entirely. Entire cities are banning them. The small size may look harmless, but looking at all of the data can be terrifying.
Some people need them to consume food or drink because of their physical condition but other than that, they are pretty pointless.
And yet it takes so much energy and resources to produce them which creates pollution and uses a lot of water and fossil fuels.
They are also meant to be used only once, most of the time which is pretty wasteful.
In most cases, these end up in the ocean, killing innocent animals who consume too much of them because they have no clue it’s plastic. Smaller species get stuck in them and die.
Plus, the plastic releases particles which further poison water, soil and air.
All of that for a straw that you could have lived without easily, without even noticing the difference.
Straws are only a part of the problem, but they are a problem.
Recycling is very important for all plastic. But straws end up in a landfill always because they are too small and machinery that recycles can’t recycle them.
So, the answer to this problem is quite simple – just don’t use them. If you don’t have any physical disabilities which require you to drink from a plastic straw, just ditch them completely.
Of course, if you love using straws so much you can’t quit them, you can try the paper ones which will replace plastic ones in many establishments anyway. There are also more durable options like bamboo or metal, or even glass and silicone. Hollow noodles work as well.
How Long Does it Take for Plastic Straws to Decompose?
Recent study discovered and reviewed how long it takes for each piece of plastic we use to decompose.
There are more than 5 trillion pieces of plastic in oceans, 8.5 billion straws are made every year in the UK and a single straw takes upwards of 200 years to decompose. A paper straw, to compare, should take only 3 days to decompose. For instance, if Queen Victoria had a plastic straw on her coronation which was in 1873, we would still have it today.
Cups made of polystyrene are another huge problem. To demonstrate, if one of these was there during the Jurassic period, we would be able to see it today. Same goes for many facial scrubs, so famously popular now – but those microbeads are so hard to decompose that they would be here in the same state even if they were there during the Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago.
The good this is that there are healthier, eco-friendly alternatives; such as:
- Biodegradable cups
- Facial scrubs made of sugar or salt instead of plastic
- Paper or reusable straws
- Ditching straws altogether if you have no physical requirement
There are other culprits which are difficult to decompose like shopping bags, cotton buds, drink stirrers, lollipop sticks, plastic cutlery and so on.
Which Companies have a Plastic Straws Ban?
Starbucks recently announced that they are going to eliminate all plastic straws from their stores by 2020. The move was brave and unique at the time but then many other companies have since followed.
They are planning on replacing straws with resealable lids for their beverages. The company will also have straws made from eco-friendly materials like paper and compostable plastic. They are the first to do this sort of thing with plastic straws. Starbucks has released statements saying they have further plans for making our environment healthier. This includes the expansion of the plastic straws ban across other countries.
This hotel company will make straws available only if someone requested them specifically. They will also add some eco-friendly alternatives for their plastics. Hyatt made it their mission to be more eco-friendly and they already had several sustainable processes in place when they banned the plastic straws.
Hilton hotels decided to remove plastic straws in 2018 from 650 of their hotels and replace them with biodegradable options. They have plans for further expansion of this replacement and introduce some more eco-friendly ways into their hotels.
Another hotel company, Marriott removed straws from 60 of their hotels in the UK and that they will replace them with biodegradable options and that only for people who specifically request them. They will also expand this further across their other hotels, thus reducing plastic straw need and straw pollution.
This airline company is ditching straws as well, while introducing some biodegradable alternatives. This is a great thing because they have many travelers every year and the numbers of straws that end up in our oceans could be seriously reduced.
This is another airline which jumped on the trend and replaced straws with better alternatives. There is a great story behind it too – A girl scout who founded Jr. Ocean Guardians sent pleas telling the company how much of a negative impact their plastic straws can have on the environment.
This establishment also announced that they want to eliminate all single use plastic in their theme parks in order to protect the sea world. They are determined to protect all of the marine animals and create a healthier environment for future generations.
This company eliminated plastic straws and now they offer paper straws but only on request. Many other companies on this list have done a similar thing and that’s a lot smarter than offering people straws whether they need them or not. Paper can also be a pollutant, although less so than plastic but it’s still polluting and is not necessary.
In addition to companies banning plastic straws, cities are also banning them and all of the facilities that didn’t accept that. These cities are Miami Beach, Oakland, Seattle and Berkeley.
People with disabilities have widely protested the total ban because there are people who do need straws to drink or even eat. While supporters of the ban have proposed alternative materials like paper or steel, sometimes plastic is the safest material for those with disabilities. For example, people with a disability affecting mobility may be injured by a steel or glass straw if they unexpectedly bite down.
So, a complete ban of plastic straws is not entirely possible at the moment because there is no better solution for this. But the progress in banning them is inevitable and welcomed as companies work on a safer alternative for those with disabilities.
Best Alternatives to Use Instead of Plastic Straws
The US produces more than 500 million straws every day. The sheer number is staggering, even unimaginable. Most of the straws end up in the ocean. So, minimizing them would be a great improvement in our environment.
This is an easy item to say no to, if you don't have a medical need for straws..
Here are some replacements you can use:
Bamboo straw – These are very light, reusable and don’t contain any chemicals. But keep in mind that bamboos are necessary for Panda bears to survive, and a mass production of bamboo straws might have devastating consequences if not sourced ethically.
Straw – This is a good alternative to plastic straws, and probably the more original version. Some restaurants are already using these because it seems more classic and more in line with their brand but also because they want to protect their environment.
Paper straws – These are also single-use but they decompose really quickly and they don’t break down in the drink. However, paper can also be a pollutant so it’s best to just avoid single use materials and products whenever you can because it would be much better for the environment.
Steel straw – These are super durable and easy to clean – you can also easily carry them with you.
Steel is a great option because it can last a lifetime with proper maintenance and it can be recycled later, once it’s not necessary anymore.
Glass Straws – Bent glass straws are another alternative and they are a lot easier to use than straight glass straws. Both are better alternatives to plastic and you should consider using them as well.
Water bottle with a reusable straw – There are many of these and you can get one without needing plastic straws. They are very durable. You can get many different water bottles that can fit your style or needs so this can really be an accessory and something useful in work, school and general life.
No straws – If you can drink without it, you don’t need it. Drinking right out of cups or glasses is a perfectly reasonable notion so straws aren’t even a necessity, unless your needs require one.
What do you think about a plastic straws ban coming to your city? Share your thoughts down below!