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Tuesday
Aug072018

A More Flexible Approach to the Straw Ban

With Seattle’s city-wide ban on plastic straws and utensils, major businesses like Marriott, American Airlines, and Starbucks announcing plans to eliminate straw usage, and increasing pressure from environmentalists, it’s become harder to ignore these ubiquitous drinking utensils. But how much impact do straws really have on the environment, and how did the movement gain so much traction?
Straws have been used by humans since ancient times; there are wall paintings of Mesopotamian royals drinking beer and wine through long tubes dating back to 3000 BC. Materials ranged from grass, actual straw, to paper, but plastic straws only started to become the dominant trend in the 1950s, when plastics became cheaper to produce. 
It’s estimated that 500 million straws are used in the US each day, enough to fill 127 school buses. Due to their small size, these straws often get past mechanical recycling sorters and end up in the ocean, polluting the water and harming marine life. A recent report on plastic flows projects that by 2050, oceans will contain more plastics than fish by weight. The same study found that since plastic packaging is often used only once, about 95% of the value, worth $80-120 billion annually, is lost to the economy.
The focus on banning straws arises because they are relatively easy, inessential items to eliminate – at least, for most people. The straw ban has gained recent attention for marginalizing disabled people, who depend on straws as an accessibility tool. While proponents of the ban have suggested alternatives made of metal or bamboo, these options may pose choking hazards and high costs for disabled consumers, promoting a situation where disabled voices are left unheard when it comes to environmental policy.
The #StopSucking movement may have taken off due to the symbolic power of simply saying no to a straw at a restaurant; no one wants to be the person responsible for a poor sea turtle with a straw stuck in his nostril, especially not when everyone else at the table declined a straw. It’s easy enough for most people to participate in the straw ban voluntarily, but we should be cautioned against mandating the ban and inadvertently dismissing the needs of the disabled community. Instead, consider adopting the following habits so everyone can reduce the impact of using plastic on the environment:

1) Use reusable shopping bags. A single plastic bag can take up to 1000 years to decompose. Reusable bags can often hold more groceries, keep certain items cold, and come in fun designs to show off your (eco-friendly) personality!

2) Buy items with less plastic packaging. Instead of single serving snacks, see if you can buy in bulk and transfer to reusable containers when packing lunches. Instead of buying dozens of plastic water bottles at a time, use a reusable bottle to track your water intake and keep drinks cool or hot.

3) Recycle plastics you do use. If you must use plastic, take care in disposing of items properly to minimize their environmental impact. While not all plastics are recyclable, it helps to know what your local recycling plant accepts and keep that waste separate from trash that ends up in landfills. 

 

By Vox Blogger: Erin Philip

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