Chrysa Keenon | Echo
In 2018, Starbucks announced that they would no longer be using straws. Disney, among other companies, followed. I thought this was great, so I did my part by participating in the #StopSucking campaign by no longer using the offensive plastic at restaurants or at the student center. I thought I was saving the ocean, one straw at a time, from right here in the cornfields.
I was, for the most part, wrong.
Originally, this piece was going to persuade you to stop using straws. However, once I did research on this I realized the issue of banning straws is just a taste of the much larger issue of plastic pollution that is affecting our world today.
According to the NBC article "Banning plastic straws will not be enough: the fight to clean the oceans," 8.8 million tons of plastic gets spilled into the ocean each year. 46 percent of that waste comes from fishing equipment - think torn nets and lost fishing lines. The pollution isn't all just plastic bags or six pack plastic rings, but we have the tendency to think this because that's what we see trapping sea life in the media.
When it comes to beach cleanup, straws rank are pretty low on the list, landing 7th in the top ten biggest pollutants on a beach in a study done in 2017. The number one litter found on the average beach is used cigarette butts. However, a ban to cigarettes and lost fishing nets is hardly media glamorous the same way a wounded-by-straw sea turtle is.
Assistant Professor of Sustainable Development Michael Grabowski calls us to look at the life cycle of a plastic product. According to Grabowski, there are three stages of this: the raw resources that creates the product, the product's use and the product's disposal.
According to the 2018 World Resources Institute article, "Banning straws and bags won't solve our plastic problem," it takes more natural resources to create a reusable, paper, or cotton bag. Grabowski says we really shouldn't feel guilty for grabbing a plastic bag at the grocery store if we forgot our cotton bag, but it really helps if we recycle that plastic bag. The recycling helps take the end off the life cycle, and can help limit the resources needed for the next cycle of production.
Grabowski noted that in America, we have laws to put as many plastics into landfills so they don't end up polluting the ocean. But we cannot account for other highly populated countries that might have different regulations than ours.
So, what now? Is banning straws even doing anything if it's on such a small scale? This seems like a pretty circular situation with no immediate solution. While avoiding a straw does in fact do a tiny amount for the Earth, we need to be dealing with concept of pollutants on a much larger scale.
"Every little thing makes a difference," Grabowski said. "And it even gets people aware that their actions do affect others and whether its other people or other parts of the world."
The straw ban is in no way negative for the environment. It's a good conversation starter, but we need to be aware that banning straws is only one baby step toward a discussion for cleaner earth and not a catch for saving our planet.