The Plastic Straw Debate

plastic straw

If you go to Starbucks nearly as much as I do, you’re probably well aware of their plastic straw restrictions.

Of course, it isn’t nation-wide – I’m still sometimes given a plastic straw with my coffee. For the most part, it seems Starbucks is phasing out of using this extra bit of plastic in favor of environmentally-friendly plastic tops.

The point of Starbucks’s sudden change in straw-related policies? The growing trend of banning plastic straws.

The trend comes from the growing movement to heal our already messed-up environment. We grow up in school learning about global warming and the impacts of climate change. It’s a universal issue that we’re going to face the consequences of very soon.

Although some still deny its existence, there’s plenty of evidence on why it truly is an issue. I’m not going to delve too deep into that here, but we’re going to assume climate change is real for the moment.

To diminish the effects of climate change, we’ve been searching for ways to save energy and stop adding so many fossil fuels to our atmosphere. At the same time, we aim to lower plastic usage since it’s a common pollutant.

Recently, this has cemented itself into a movement to end plastic straws. Plastic straws, along with plastic bags and other one-time use plastics, are seen as the enemies. Because they’re not often reused, they add to the growing stockpile of plastic on our Earth and in its oceans. People have started to favor metal straws and other reusable materials. A lot of restaurants and even some cities have aimed to remove plastic straws entirely from their service and way of life.

I mean, it sounds like a good idea. Why not cut out a bit more plastic from ending up in the environment?

plastic straw
Photo by Julia Joppien on Unsplash

But that’s where things get a bit tricky.

On one hand, there’s been a bit of frustration from people with disabilities in response to the growing trend. A couple disability activists online have admitted feeling judged for using plastic straws, despite the fact that they genuinely need them.

But on the other hand, the question I want to ask is whether this is a useful tactic to save the environment.

To start, it’s important to look at how straws contribute to plastic pollution. It’s reported that about half a million to eight billion plastic straws are found on the world’s coastlines. Even so, the total amount of plastic in the world’s oceans is closer to 9 million tons. When it comes down to it, straws make up far less than 4 percent of the plastic pollution by weight.

So…even if we stopped using plastic straws altogether, we’d still be dealing with plenty of pollution from other sources. Even the cups we’re given are made up of a lot more plastic than a straw.

What’s the point in forgoing a straw, then?

In reality, the movement against straws is doing a lot to promote caring about the environment. It’s a way to push people towards less waste. Even if its impact is minor, it encourages citizens to get involved in fixing our Earth.

Despite this, I do have a few qualms about this movement and the way we’re currently approaching climate change as a whole. By focusing so solely on the general public healing the environment, we put most of the responsibility on ourselves. We assume that we are the ones in control. We accept that it’s solely up to us to take care of this issue because we believe we’re the problem.

And that’s the issue humanity faces. We aren’t holding the right people accountable for the destruction of our world.

According to a report by The Guardian, over 70 percent of world pollution is due to only a hundred international companies. Seventy percent.

plastic straw
Photo by Thomas Millot on Unsplash

Which means, even if we, everyday citizens, did everything we could to monitor our own personal pollution and plastic use, there’d still be corporations emitting more fossil fuels than all of us combined.

We are trying so hard to monitor ourselves, without realizing we should be focusing on the main source of these problems: the corporations.

Rather than focusing on the trendy plastic ban that does little to actually save the environment, we need to concentrate on creating laws and restrictions against the corporations that are single-handedly allowing our world to deteriorate. Rather than shaming people for not replacing a plastic straw for one of those cute, environment-saving plastic caps, we should be urging our governments to hold corporations accountable. We have to be looking for renewable energy sources and protesting the ways in which big businesses put profitability over sustainability.

It’s nice that so many people want to help the environment. But focusing on the little problems and calling it a day won’t save us from the impacts of climate change.

We need to tackle the center of the issue and refuse to back off. Otherwise, it may be too late to stop climate change from running its course.

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