The Last Straw

Winter has come and gone, and I am excitedly anticipating the spring and summer buzz. Sunny mornings, gardening, swimming, barbeques and beers… Fan-fricking-tastic yo! The hot weather also results in a need to stay hydrated and sadly this often comes at a big cost. Today I’m not talking about plastic water bottles (though I do curse their existence), but something smaller and less noticeable that still has a hugely negative effect on the environment.

Plastic straws.

They’re popped into our drinks at parties, cafés, and bars all the time. Sometimes there will be numerous straws in a single drink! Don’t get me wrong – I love sipping my OJ through a straw, the problem is that each of these little plastic tubes go straight into the garbage, and these add up extremely quickly. It is estimated that in the United States alone 5,000,000 straws are used and disposed of every day. 5 million. Every day. This number is based on straw manufacturers estimates of how many disposable straws are distributed for use around the U.S. It doesn’t even include all the extra straws that come attached to juice and milk boxes. Pretty scary. So… Let’s take a closer look at the average disposable straw shall we?

Firstly, how are straws made? 

Most straws are made from polypropylene – a petroleum by-product which does not easily bio-degrade naturally and can have a huge effect on the environment around us. Without getting into the whole debate around fossil fuel extraction, the products and by-products alone are a huge cause for concern. Straws are manufactured in factories around the world using equipment like the stuff in this Youtube video.

Why do we use them and are these reasons justifiable?

There are a number of reasons why we choose not to go straw-less. Hygiene has been cited as a key reason for using straws – they mean drinks can be more easily shared, and (theoretically)the plastic material and style of manufacturing means that they are a safe and sterile product to drink from. This argument seems pretty bogus to me. Reusable straws are washable (plastic ones aren’t as they melt and release toxins) and solve any hygiene problem, though if you really are concerned then I suggest not sharing a drink with anyone in the first place…

Straws are also cheap to manufacture and buy, while their disposable nature means they are always in demand. Clearly that makes for a safe sales investment, but just because a product is being purchased doesn’t mean that it is therefore justifiable despite its consequences. Many people seem to struggle with this concept.

They are also toted for health reasons – sipping fizzy or juice through a straw means you can enjoy these drinks while protecting your teeth from the worst of the sugar. Finally, the use of straws is simply ingrained into the way we drink! “How do we sip our G&T without one?” cry all the Merivale mums. “Drinking while out would simply feel different without straws!” … You wouldn’t be wrong. Luckily these issues can be solved by using straws made from alternative products.

Screen Shot 2015-10-03 at 2.34.02 pm

Environment Impact

Once our straws are out of our mouths and into the trash this is where they start making a significant impact. It doesn’t take much research to see that plastic straws are a large contributor to the plastic pollution of the world and specifically in our oceans. The reason I wanted to discuss straws in particular is because of a video I watched recently which shows some scientists prying a straw out of the nostril of an olive ridley sea turtle. (Warning: some may find this video upsetting)

We all know about how our use of plastics is effecting the environment but I will pop a few basic stats in here because knowledge is power, even if that knowledge is terrifying.

  • Plastic constitutes 90% of all trash floating in the world’s oceans.
  • 61% of this plastic is less than a mm in size which means that…
  • Marine life often mistake fragments of plastic as food, leading to the deaths of these animals and toxins entering the food chain.
  • 1 million sea birds and 100,000 mammals die from this plastic pollution every year.

Screen Shot 2015-10-03 at 11.40.02 am

So, it’s bad. And plastic straws are a surprisingly large part of this general badness. Straw and stirrers were 5th out of the top 10 collected items as part of the International Coast Clean Up initiative, after cigarette butts, food wrappers, plastic bottles, and plastic bottle caps.

Ok, ok… So it’s all very gloom and doom-y so far. Sorry about that. I want the article to be less sad from here on in, so it’s probably the time to say THERE IS HOPE AND WE CAN TURN THAT INTO AWESOME! Better? Good.

Let’s make simple changes and big differences by following these easy peasy steps:

  • Simply say “No straw please” when ordering in cafes, restaurants, and bars etc. Say it 10 times in a row now and make sure you turn this into a habit while out and about.
  • If you know of a eatery that is sustainable and/or doesn’t use disposable straws then make sure you go a lot, mention how cool they are, and drag all your friends there at any opportunity.
  • If you’re getting fast food then ask for a cup without a straw or plastic lid – especially if you’re eating in.
  • Go out and invest in your own personal straw and keep it in your bag alongside your reusable cutlery! You can get metal, glass, or even bamboo straws! Check out online or peruse your local boutique-y/kitchen-y store.
  • I have two metal straws as well as a wee pipe cleaner brush that I use to clean them. One of the straws is bent and narrower and the other is wider and straight – this means I choose which one I need depending on the thickness of my drink!

Screen Shot 2015-10-03 at 11.40.09 amPoppy’s fancy reusable straws

It’s as simple as that! Also try to remember not to beat yourself up if you make a mistake. Last weekend I forgot to ask for no straw while out for brunch and my smoothie came out with two! I took a deep breath and thought of the countless times in recent months when I had remembered and made a difference. This isn’t about beating yourself up, but making your sustainable efforts a positive and uplifting experience.

If you want to know more about this, or just have a general discussion with me about zero-waste stuff then feel free to flick me an email – I’d love to talk to you! See ya next time ☺

– Poppy

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