Plastic Straws in our World!

Did you know that nearly 500 million plastic straws are used every day in the U.S. alone? Just think of all these used straws polluting the environment. You never order a drink these days without a straw to accompany it. Well, I have to admit, I love drinking through a straw when I’m not at home. I do not like germs! I am trying to get used to not having one but it is hard.

Australian scientists estimate that as many as 8.3 billion plastic straws are polluting the beaches around the world. The ocean receives about 8 million tons of plastic every year and one of the focuses today is on straws. This is probably one item that most people can do without very easily. If the elimination of that daily straw doesn’t radically change your behavior, why not eliminate the use?

Straws were introduced during the Industrial Revolution in the late 1800s and are one of the older utensils. Ancient Sumerians were one of the first to brew beer and it was consumed using a long, thin tube made from metal to reach the liquid below the line of fermentation. In the 1880s Marvin Stone hated the residue left in his drink when a straw of ryegrass broke down, so he made his own wrapping strips of paper around a pencil and gluing them into place. His design was patented in 1888 and was being mass-produced by 1890. Then in 1930, Joseph Friedman added indentations to the paper straw so they could easily bend without breaking. The paper straw had a slow death in the 1960s and ’70s and was basically gone by the mid-‘70s. Thus, the manufacturing of plastic straws arrived. (And they fit in the plastic lids.)

Plastics Europe is one of the largest plastic producers in the world with 1.5 million tons of plastic produced in 1950. By 2015 it had multiplied to 320 million tons of plastic. Many corporations, cities, and governments are analyzing and proposing a ban on plastic straws. No plastic straws or utensils can be used in Seattle. This is the first major U.S. city to undertake this eco-conscious decision of the plastic pollution known to be damaging to marine wildlife. Other proposals for banning are being considered in New York, Hawaii and several cities in California, Washington, New Jersey, and Florida, American Airlines will eliminate more than 71,000 pounds of plastic a year, and Hilton Hotels will remove straws from 650 properties by the end of 2018. The Hyatt Corporation will provide straws by request only. By 2020 Starbucks will eliminate plastic straws and stirrers and has designed new plastic lids. Dunkin’ Donuts will eliminate Styrofoam cups by 2020 but didn’t mention plastic utensils or straws and McDonald’s has begun testing plastic alternatives in 14,000 stores in the U.S.

Jenna Jambeck, an engineering professor at the University of Georgia says plastic needs to be kept off the beaches and out of the ocean as they are insidious when consumed by fish. About 70% of seabirds and 30% of turtles have been found with plastic in their stomachs. When ingested, marine life has a 50% mortality rate and is among the top 10 items found during beach cleanups. They are often mistaken for food by animals and can cause suffocation and death. Lids are recycled but straws are not as they are too lightweight to make it through a machine recycling sorter.

It is important to choose reusable over single-use products, so avoid disposable straws and plastic bags, choose nonelastic toothbrushes, avoid plastic bottles, request no plastic wrap on newspapers and dry cleaning, store foods in glass, avoid processed food in plastic bags, opt for non disposable razors, wash synthetic clothes less frequently, and wash paintbrushes in rinse water in a jar and dispose at your local landfill in designated spots for paint. Do not let it go down the drain. Do your part in preserving our environment.

Dr Fredda Branyon