In July of 2018, Starbucks announced that they will not be using plastic straws in any of their products after 2020. Starbucks joins a list of companies and cities, including Seattle, Washington, to ban single-use plastic straws. The purpose of banning plastic straws is to reduce the amount of waste polluting oceans. Naturally though, this new legislation is receiving major pushback from companies that make straws and a society that uses over 300 million metric tons of plastic every year, according to Business Insider. I, for one, think that regulations like these are a step in the right direction as they not only reduce the amount of waste winding up in landfills and oceans, but also open the door for more impactful waste reduction.
The anti-plastic straw movement started in 2015 when a video went viral, depicting wildlife researchers attempting to remove a straw from the nose of a sea turtle. The blood and wails of the turtle have been watched over 32 million times. The turtle is among one of 200 species, according to National Geographic, that have been observed eating or getting stuck in plastic products. These incidents cause unnatural deaths of too many animals every day and may eventually lead to extinction of these species. When a species goes extinct, this can destabilize the ecosystem. A destabilized ecosystem can have repercussions that ultimately come back to humans. As an example, sea turtles are one of few aquatic creatures that eat seagrass. This is vital, because if seagrass goes untrimmed, it will accumulate on the seafloor. When this happens, the nutrition cycle, predator-prey relationships and ocean currents are disrupted. As the food becomes disrupted, we have less food and resources to harvest from. This single example of our neglect for the environment does not compare to all of the other consequences that will ultimately come back around to hurt us.
Despite the obvious advantages to banning plastic straws, there have been three major arguments against it. First, people say that banning straws will not have a meaningful impact on the environment. USA Today points out that plastic straws only make up 2,000 tons of the 9 million tons of the ocean’s plastic waste. This amount, while significant, pales in comparison to the amount of plastic found in other products. Second, straw manufacturers say that a compostable straw is significantly more expensive than plastic straws. While plastics can be imported for less than a penny, compostable straws can cost 20 cents each. Despite these concerns, there are ways to work around them. Third, people with disabilities need plastic straws for a variety of reasons. The Guardian pointed out that people with cerebral palsy have a hard time controlling their bite and could hurt themselves while using a metal straw. Additionally, people who are unable to tilt their head need straws to just drink out of a cup.
Despite what the numbers say, banning straws is a significant improvement for conservation efforts. By starting with straws, this opens the gate to banning other single-use plastic items. It’s the culmination of other plastic items being banned that will have a real and positive impact on the environment. For the compostable straws, economics will take over. As the supply and demand of compostable straws increases, we will likely see the price drop. Also, companies will develop methods for making straws cheaper and more abundant. Finally, for those that are disabled, there can be accommodations. The San Francisco law banning straws and other single-use items, which will go into effect in 2020, has a clause that allows people with disabilities to request plastic straws. While there is no outright ban, the reduction of straw usage will decrease the number of straws significantly enough to make a difference. Like with many regulations, there will be a transition period that is rough. But it will be better for the future.
The choice is clear: banning plastic straws is a good thing. In doing so, we will have a cleaner future for our ecosystem, full of life and sustainable resources. It is critical that we start looking at the tiny details in our society that we take for granted to have a big impact for the future.