Single-use plastic items such as plastic straws and utensils are growing in popularity — but it’s not what you think. With convenience at the forefront, many of us have become dependant on single-use plastics. However, the reality of our consumption habits has started to set in, and demands for a plastic straw ban are at an all-time high.
According to Eco-Cycle, Americans consume around 500 million straws every day (that’s enough to fill 127 school buses to the brim) and many believe the number to be even higher. So, why a plastic straw ban? For starters, plastic is one of the most indestructible materials on our planet and can exist for hundreds — sometimes thousands — of years. While recycling is an excellent solution for items like water bottles and other heavy-duty plastics, it’s hardly a solution for plastic straws.
Straws are too lightweight to be recycled. | Milos Bicanski/Getty Images
How straws end up in the ocean
Why aren’t plastic straws recyclable? According to A Strawless Ocean, they’re “too lightweight to make it through the mechanical recycling sorter.” Because of this, many plastic straws end up back in the garbage, or worse: the ocean.
Thanks to their lack of weight, straws can easily blow out of trash transportation vehicles (including, boats) and make their way to a nearby gutter. And, unfortunately, all gutters — storm drains included — lead to the ocean.
In addition to blowing away, human error is another reason many plastic straws end up in the ocean. Whether they’re left on the beach by mistake or purposefully littered, us humans haven’t always been good about our plastic waste. In fact, it an estimated eight million tons of plastic end up in the ocean every year thanks to — you guessed it — us.
With their lightweight tendencies, plastic straws don’t add much to the estimated weight. But, because of their slender size, they can cause immense harm to marine life. According to A Strawless Ocean, marine life has a 50% mortality rate after ingesting plastic. That alone makes them one of the most dangerous plastic polluters of all.
The good news in all of this? We have the power to ban plastic straws for good.
Seattle is the first major U.S. city to ban plastic straws. | PATRICK PLEUL/AFP/Getty Images
The plastic straw ban
With recycling no longer an option for plastic straws, many environmentalists have called for a plastic straw ban. And, companies — such as Starbucks and McDonalds — are starting to take notice. Thanks to demanding consumers in the United Kingdom, Starbucks and McDonalds (among other companies) have begun to phase out plastic straws.
While this kind of eco-friendly change has yet to happen to some of the major chain restaurants in the United States, many have started to take notice. In fact, in some states the demand for a plastic straw ban has gone so far that city officials are taking matters into their own hands.
In June 2018, Seattle became the first major United States city to ban the use of plastic straws. “Plastic pollution is surpassing crisis levels in the world’s oceans, and I’m proud Seattle is leading the way and setting an example for the nation by enacting a plastic straw ban,” Seattle Public Utilities General Manager Mami Hara said in a statement.
San Francisco, New York City, and Los Angeles are among some of the other cities considering a plastic straw ban.
What to use instead of plastic straws
Whether you live in an area taking action or want to ban plastic straws in your own home, there are many ways to do so. For one, you can replace plastic straws with paper straws. Available at a variety of party stores and online, paper straws are an easy, eco-friendly way to make the switch.
While compostable plastic straws are also available for purchase, it is believed to have a similar impact on marine life. That’s why many environmentalists are asking restaurants to switch to paper straws.
Want something a little more reusable? Consider metal straws. Available online, these straws can be used at home or carried in your bag. That way you never have to use a plastic straw at Starbucks and other coffee shops again.