Everyday Things: Straw Wars

Plastic straws

The following article by Fidela Schneider is excerpted from GCA’s ConWatch publication.

Never in the past did we imagine that straws were a danger to our environment. Indeed, if straws are made from paper, bamboo, glass, or stainless steel, they are reusable and practical. However, if they are made from petroleum based polypropylene as single use plastic straws to be thrown away, they constitute a deadly threat to the marine and aquatic life in our oceans, lakes, and rivers. Plastic straws never degrade. Instead they contribute to the grave environmental damage caused by non-recyclable, non-compostable, and non-degradable trash that litters our beaches, chokes our oceans, and overwhelms our landfills.

How big is the problem?

According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium:

  • 8.8 million tons of plastic enters the ocean every year, the equivalent of a full dump truck every minute.
  • Plastic waste of all kinds averages 200 pounds per person per year.
  • Nearly 700 species including all sea turtles and more than 50% of the seabird and marine mammal species have ingested or become entangled in plastic debris.
  • Microplastics replace nutritive algae in the diet of plankton and thus enter the bottom of the food chain to rise to significant concentrations in the bodies of larger edible fish.
  • Plastic pollution also damages our rivers and lakes and landfill seepage threatens our groundwater.

Straws are only part of this enormous amount of plastic debris circulating in our oceans, but their impact is still significant. In the United States we use and discard 500 million straws a day according to the Plastic Pollution Coalition. To make that statistic meaningful consider that a half billion straws laid end to end would encircle the Earth 2.5 times. It is not surprising that the Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup data reports that straws rank as the fifth largest category of beach litter for the last three years.