Are Plastic Straws Really That Bad For the Environment?
Plastic straws are having a moment of infamy, mostly due to the fact that these suckers end up as pollutants in the ocean. Companies like Starbucks and Disney are already making moves to completely phase out plastic straws in the coming years.
Viral videos like the one of a turtle getting a plastic nose pulled out of his nose and celeb-backed organizations like Lonely Whale are putting the anti-plastic straw movement on the map and keeping the masses educated.
Here’s what you need to know about plastic straws and their impact on the environment.
How many plastic straws are out there?
There are an estimated 7.5 million plastic straws on America’s shorelines alone, which has led scientists to believe there could be 437 million to 8.3 billion plastic straws on coastlines across the entire world.
And that number could be growing since Americans use 500 million single-use straws every single day.
Why are plastic straws a problem?
Although these plastic straws should technically be recyclable, in reality, they aren’t. Often, most plastic straws are too lightweight to make it through a mechanical recycling sorter, according to Lonely Whale. As a result, they contaminate recycling loads.
Sometimes, it’s due to human error, as straws are small and easily left behind or littered, or even get blown out of trash cans.
How do plastic straws affect marine life?
When they do reach the ocean, straws never completely break down. They turn into microplastics rather than completely biodegrading, which poses a huge threat to ocean life.
And straws are often mistaken as food by sea creatures such as birds, turtles and fish, which can often lead to suffocation and death.
71% of seabirds and 30% of turtles have been found with plastic in their stomachs (or in their nose, like that poor turtle). And marine life has a 50% mortality rate after ingesting plastic. In other words, they have a 50-50 chance of dying.
It’s estimated that by the year 2050, we’ll have more plastic in the ocean than fish, because as ocean scientist Sherry Lippiatt, California regional coordinator for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s marine debris program, told the Chicago Tribune, “for every pound of tuna we’re taking out of the ocean, we’re putting two pounds of plastic in the ocean.” (Of course, straws aren’t the only source of plastic in the ocean. Plastic bags, single-use plastics like water bottles, and more contribute to the problem.)
What are some straw alternatives?
Starbucks has begun introducing a sippy-cup lid as they work toward nixing single-use plastic straws in the coming years (although some argue these lids are just as hard to recycle as their straw predecessors).
Last week, we announced that we'll be removing plastic straws from our stores globally by 2020. You've asked a lot of questions—and we have answers for you! pic.twitter.com/dHhy9FsY6w— Starbucks Coffee (@Starbucks) July 20, 2018
Other straw alternatives include paper straws–which still produce waste but are less harmful than plastic–these biodegradable silicone straws.
There are also stainless steel straws, which are currently the front runner as an alternative despite the risk of heating up when used with hot drinks. Steel straws are easy to stow away, reuse and clean.
And most of us (some in the disabled community do need to use straws to ingest liquids) can just forgo straws altogether.
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