Everything You Need to Know About the Plastic Straw Movement
August 30, 2018 • 4 min read
The world has been swept up recently by the #RefuseTheStraw movement, with huge global chains like Starbucks, as well as government bodies banning the sale or use of single-use plastic straws. While we’re excitedly applauding them for their environmental conduct, how much of this ban is actually doing something good, and how much of it is corporate greenwashing?
If you aren’t yet familiar with the term “greenwashing,” it means the spread of disinformation by an organization so as to present an environmentally responsible public image. An example of this is H&M, a mega fast fashion corporation that encourages consumers to donate their old clothing so that they may be properly recycled or disposed of, however the company hasn’t changed their production methods and is sitting on $4.3 billion of unsold stock, a move that has created a far larger ecological footprint than a few recycling bins could ever hope to erase. Those bins in their stores are thus, greenwashing.
How does this relate to plastic straws? Well, the anti-straw movement took the world by storm this summer, whereby everyone was urging each other to #PassOnPlastic and #StopSucking. Corporations jumped on board to make sweeping announcements that they were banning plastic straws from their establishments, gaining the applause and respect from patrons and social media alike. Next came city bans, where municipalities in many cities across the globe announced their plans to ban single-use plastic straws. Once again, applauses rang out. While on the surface these commitments to the environment are great, a lot of what we don’t know or talk about is still sitting untouched.
We’re here to tell you everything you need to know about the plastic straw movement, 2018’s biggest environmental cause.
You might also like: What is Greenwashing?
To break it down, Canadians use and throw away around 57 million plastic straws a day. Americans use and throw away around 500 million plastic straws a day. This number is enough to fill 127 school buses a day!
The reason why plastic straws can’t be recycled is because of their shape. Their thin, cylindrical structure is what causes them to fall through the cracks when being sorted on conveyor belts in recycling facilities. They end up being sent to the landfill, as special straw-recycling facilities don’t exist. Because of the thin material they are made of, plastic straws break apart into microplastic very easily, impaling turtles and ending up in the stomachs of marine life, making their way up the food chain.
Global beach volunteer cleanup crews associated with the Ocean Conservancy ranked plastic straws as the seventh most common piece of trash found washed up on beaches in 2017. While plastic straws are a problem, many people claim that hardly any are seen floating around in the Great Garbage Patch, and what is most commonly found as an ocean polluter are discarded fishing nets.
In light of this global movement to ban plastic straws, alternative options have hit the zero-waste stores and are all the rage. Options include:
- Bamboo: a lightweight straw that is made from a renewable resource and one that is biodegradable, reusable and made without chemicals or dyes.
- Paper: a single-use alternative that is fully compostable
- Steel: durable, easy to clean, and can be easily carried around with you
- Glass: great for bubble tea, and easy to clean
- Silicone: flexible, great for bubble tea, easy to clean, and durable
- None: straws are often a luxury we don’t need, so if you can consume your beverage without one, pass!
Starbucks is a global name, one that is a huge contributor to the plastic straw dilemma. In efforts to do better, at least from a PR standpoint, the coffee giant has announced the elimination of single-use plastic straws at their facilities, to be replaced with either sippy cups or compostable straws. While this seems like a great environmental move, it’s greenwashing at its finest. In a tough year for Starbucks PR, the company angled their marketing in a way that shows them as the proactive good guys. What we’re not talking about is how the options they’ve come up with suck harder than plastic straws.
How are the sippy cup lids better or easier to recycle than the straws? Perhaps they won’t fall through the cracks like plastic straws, but the point is, they’re still made of plastic. The company already has an issue addressing its cup-wastage, so introducing a redesign that isn’t all that beneficial is hardly worthy of praise.
Their introduction of compostable straws as a replacement for plastic straws is also a move that is more marketing genius than it is earth-friendly. People are often misguided into believing that compostable means biodegradable in any waste bin. Compostable plastics can only be properly broken down in high-temperature commercial facilities, so if customers of Starbucks are throwing out their compostable straws in regular garbage bins, they sadly won’t break down in the landfills they get sent to.
A better solution would be to use durable bioplastics that are made from plant materials, but that can still be recycled, allowing them to be reused for longer.
In the conversation about the plastic straw movement, a large group of people have been left out. The disabled community and those advocating for them have been speaking up about concerns over the plastic straw bans in cities and cafes, a concern that is directly tied to the ability to consume a beverage. For many people, plastic straws are just a convenience, but for many who suffer from muscular disabilities, the reliance on plastic straws is often daily, and is a matter of safety and independence. The alternative options such as bamboo, glass, paper, steel and silicone have a whole host of reasons why they just don’t work. Bamboo straws are inflexible, glass, silicone and metal pose problems for those who have difficulty controlling their bite, steel straws can transfer heat from hot or cold beverages, and paper straws can easily turn to mush.
Luckily, enough people have spoken out about this disregard, that there will be exceptions made for those who require plastic straws for drinking, and Starbucks will have the option of plastic straws should a customer ask for one. The best move forward for everyone when it comes inclusivity, the environment, convenience, and marine life is bioplastics, so here’s hoping a switch and an awakening happen sooner rather than later.
What’s something you can do to contribute positively to the plastic straw movement? If you are able, carry your own reusable straw with you, regardless if you live in a city that has banned them or not. Do your part by refusing a single-use luxury that isn’t required!
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