I love plastic drinking straws. There, I said it. Can of Diet Coke, plastic straw. Glass of water at a restaurant, plastic straw. Of course, we are all well aware of what they do to the environment, but I find them very handy. Here are some interesting facts:
- The earliest known drinking straw was found in a tomb belonging to Sumerians in 2000-3000 BC, located in modern day Iraq in the Middle East, and was made of gold and precious stone.
- The first known straws used for drinking were probably invented to avoid the solid byproducts of fermentation that sink to the bottom. Legend holds that in the late 19th century, a mint-julep-loving Washington, D.C. businessman was so bothered by the plant-based straws of the time that would disintegrate in his drink that he created a paper-and-wax version.
- Drinking straws are said to lower the incidence of tooth decay caused by acids in beverages such as carbonated drinks, as they channel the drink more directly into the throat, bypassing more teeth.
- In the U.S., 500 million straws a day, are used. That is enough straw waste to wrap the circumference of the earth 2.5 times or to fill Yankee Stadium over nine times in a year.
- Interestingly, straws cannot be recycled and pose as a significant threat.
There are many reasons we should stop using plastic straws.
- By 2050, scientists predict there will be more plastic in the ocean by weight than fish.
- Some plastic straws are still being made with materials that are potentially toxic or carcinogenic. And even if straws are labeled as “BPA-free,” they might still contain the chemical.
- Plastic is not biodegradable. And even though many disposable straws are made from recyclable materials, they can be difficult to recycle. According to the Strawless Ocean in the US, plastic straws are too lightweight for recycling sorters and drop through sorting screens and end up in landfills. (And that’s only if someone bothers putting them in the recycling bin to begin with.)
- Plastic can remain in the environment for over 2000 years, so that beverage that took you 15 minutes to drink will linger in the environment for generations.
- Straws pollute the ocean. For several different reasons, straws frequently end up in the ocean because they’re littered on the beach, blown out of trashcans, or washed down storm drains. Studies predict that by 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by weight. Because of their small size, aquatic animals can confuse bits of plastic for food and choke on them.
- People can get hurt. Thousands of people end up in the ER each year because of straw-related injuries, such as contusions, abrasions, mouth injuries, or eye injuries.
- An average person will go through 38,000 straws in 60 years. Which means that 500 million straws are used everyday. And that’s just in the United States. No wonder a hundred thousand sea animals and a million birds die each year due to plastic consumption.
What can we do?
To make a change, it’s as simple as asking to not get a straw with your beverage when you order one. It may not feel like you can save the planet on your own, but little habits like this help raise awareness and your influence can easily spread. One small gesture can have a huge impact.
Think about this: it’s likely that every straw you’ve ever used in your life still exists in the environment somewhere. It just degrades until it is microscopic. Even burning it creates harmful dioxin emissions that are bad for your health and the environment. It’s as if the straws we used in kindergarten with our little cartons of milk are still around here somewhere. Kinda creepy, if you ask me.
Spread the word! If someone notices that you’re not using a straw, let them know why. And for many people, ditching plastic straws will not affect their quality of life. Of course, there are exceptions, and some people need straws. But for everyone who can live without them, imagine the impact it’d have on the environment if we all stopped using them.
If you’re not ready to give up on straws entirely, there are tons of options for reusable straws out there. Bamboo, stainless steel, paper, silicone, treated glass, etc. If you want the future to be healthier, now is the time to give up on disposable straws forever. And tell your friends to do the same.
On July 9, corporate superstar Starbucks said that it would stop using plastic straws in two years. The company said it will eliminate about a billion plastic straws from its stores worldwide by 2020, making it the largest food and beverage company to end use of a high-profile source of water pollution. Starbucks will switch instead to paper straws and sippy-cup-like strawless lids.
Environmentalists have praised Starbucks’ announcement that it will stop using plastic straws within two years, but it also barely makes a dent in the global trash crisis. Simply put, we’re running out of places to safely throw stuff away.
Hyatt Hotels followed Starbucks’ lead by saying it will stop providing plastic straws as of September, although guests will still be able to ask for one. More eco-friendly alternatives will be made available. Similar moves have been announced by Hilton Hotels, Ikea, Royal Caribbean, American Airlines, SeaWorld and other companies.