Plastic Straw Movement- Reduce Your Plastic Footprint
Updated: Apr 3, 2019
You may have noticed all the news articles about plastic straws lately. The small, seemingly harmless utensil that goes generally unnoticed in your everyday life has made it onto 2018’s most-wanted list.
If it’s surprising to hear that plastic straws are receiving backlash, it may be even more surprising to hear that, according to a 2017 study from researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz, a whopping 91 percent of the plastic we use is not recycled and instead ends up in landfills or the ocean. Because of statistics like that, some municipalities and corporations are starting to make efforts to fight pollution. As part of that, they are proposing to ban or cut back on plastic straws.
Recycling is a great program, but how does it really solve the problem? My opinion, it doesn't! If you want to address the root cause, don't use it!
As of July 1, Seattle is the first U.S. city to ban the use of plastic straws for vendors in the city, as well as plastic stir sticks and utensils. The New York City Council also recently introduced legislation to ban plastic straws by 2020. And most recently, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors passed a proposal to outlaw plastic straws and stirrers in the city.
Among corporations jumping on board, Starbucks is one of the first globally recognized brands to announce it will be moving away from plastic straws. In addition to switching to compostable straws, it will be releasing a new strawless drink lid design on its regular cold-drink cups. McDonald’s in the UK has already begun the process of removing plastic straws from its stores and set a goal to have 100 percent of its food and beverage packaging materials be from renewable or recycled sources by 2025.
These big cities and large corporations taking action helps to bring attention to the issue and start a conversation about how harmful plastic straws, and plastic as a whole, are to the environment.
Moving away from plastic straws is undoubtedly good for the environment, but it may present some challenges for business owners.
Based on the amount of media attention plastic straws are getting, it may be surprising to hear they are not the leading type of plastic waste. That record goes to food wrappers and containers, which account for about 31 percent of all plastic pollution. They are followed by plastic bottle and container caps at 15.5 percent, plastic bags at 11.2 percent, and then finally plastic straws and stirrers at 8.1 percent.
The main reason cited for eliminating plastic straws is their negative impact on our oceans and marine wildlife. Plastic in the ocean is a huge problem — look no further than trash island, or the viral video of a turtle suffering as a result of ocean pollution, to understand that. But of all the plastic that ends up in the ocean, straws make up only four percent of that waste.
So why are straws a big target? The problem is their size. They are small and inconspicuous. So much so that people often forget they are plastic and do not recycle them. Straws that do get recycled often don’t make it through the mechanical recycling sorter because they are so small and lightweight. So they contaminate recycling loads or get disposed of as garbage. It is estimated that the average person uses 1.6 straws per day. That means that if 25,000 people stop using straws, we would eliminate 5,000,000 straws and prevent them from entering oceans and harming wildlife. So, knowing that most straws, recycled or not, are likely to end up in our oceans, and knowing the amount of straws being used every day, individuals cutting back on use can make a difference.
How do we get here? Bedrock is working with suppliers on sourcing paper compostable straws, cycle out plastic t-shirt bags to be replaced by recycled paper, eliminated plastic utensils and paper plates last year, decided not to sell bottled water but... how can we work towards eliminating the plastic cup and lid? One of the main reasons we are flooded with plastic is due to its low cost. However i am willing to sacrifice profits to sustain an environment and work towards what i believe is socially ethical. Currently, we sell soda's in a plastic cup and lid but we have sourced tumblers to choose from plus choose do without the straw, entirely whether paper or plastic.
How did one small part of a very large problem kick off a movement that has inspired cities to ban plastic straw use altogether?
Let’s start at the beginning.
Plastic straws are not the first iteration of straws. It started with cardboard straws, but once plastic production in America increased, people realized it was quicker and cheaper to produce plastic straws. Starting in the 1960s, plastic straw manufacturing took off. From there, a number of large manufacturers started to produce plastic straws and other on-the-go convenient plastic items that were increasingly in demand. Quickly, the industry as a whole started producing more plastic, and by 2015 the world was producing 322 million tons of plastic.
Now, we are faced with having to backtrack and try to reduce the damage that years of plastic overproduction have done. The main problem is that, while convenient, plastic is not biodegradable — it does not break down into compounds (like carbon dioxide or water) that can be easily reused. Therefore, it takes years to break down plastic particles. Because of this, when plastic is not recycled and ends up in the ocean, it stays there, forever. Based on an analysis of trash collected on U.S. coastlines during cleanups over five years, it was found that there are nearly 7.5 million plastic straws on America’s shorelines. There are figured to be about 437 million to 8.3 billion plastic straws on the entire world’s coastlines. And since they are not biodegradable, they are not going anywhere. We know that plastic straws are only four percent of all pollution on the planet, which puts into perspective just how much plastic is laying around.
So, while straws are a small place to start, movements like plastic straw bans bring attention to conversations about waste management and pollution. This movement can help people become more aware of the impact that everyday plastic products have on the sustainability of the planet. That can, in turn, hopefully help us make progress in reducing the amount of plastic waste in the world. That isn’t to say it will be an easy process. While the recent bans have been met with a lot of enthusiasm, communities that rely on plastic straws and use them on a regular basis are worried about what these changes mean for them.
The message here is lets swim with the turtles not against them! Cheers, Erica