The Plastic Straw Conundrum

At this point, I’m sure everyone has seen the video with the sea turtle, at least once. A good Samaritan notice a sea turtle having some breathing issues, and it turns out, he had a plastic straw wedged fairly deep into his nose that needed to be extracted carefully with a pair of pliers. The video is slightly graphic, and absolutely heartbreaking, and it started a movement to ban plastic straws.

The plastic straw is a relatively new innovation, despite straws themselves having quite a colourful and extensive history. Throughout time they have been made from all sorts of materials; paper, gold, glass, root fibers, you name it. In the 1960’s, and the rise of plastic as a cheap, and disposable option, we started making straws from plastic as well. Plastic straws are offered to us at our favourite takeout place, in our iced coffees, or a the bar during happy hour. A staple of backyard BBQs is remember what colour straw is in your shape of cup. Yes, reusable straws still exist, and companies are getting creative and making them more beautiful and personalize than they ever were. Unfortunately, we are a society addicted to our instant pleasures. No one wants to carry a straw around, let alone who has time to clean it properly. And just how bougie would it look to pull out your specialized glass blown straw at McDonalds?

Now, I’m not condoning the use of plastic straws. Large corporations have a social responsibility as well, and many have taken steps in the right directions. As the anti-straw movement has gained momentum, a lot of restaurants don’t default to putting a straw in your cup, you need to ask. I’ve been to a few places in the GTA that even when asked, you’re given a paper straw. Companies that offer takeout cups don’t necessarily have the options of not providing a straw, so there’s been push for changing the material straws are made of. If straws have to be plastic, they should be made from a biodegradable plastic.

But what about the straws we already own? What happens when I’m given a straw with my takeout, even when I don’t ask for one? Or better yet, what about the box of plastic straws I have in my apartment, bought almost two years ago as part of ‘home staples’ that I purchased, that’s never been opened?

There is virtually nothing we can do about them, or at least, we haven’t thought of anything yet.

The material they’re made of cannot be recycled. That material in turn takes hundreds of years to break down. If you cut them up, so that they can’t get lodged in the nostril of a poor innocent sea turtle, you’re actually adding to the ecologically damage by spreading small plastic particles into the environment, because even when disposed of correctly, they’re still leeching chemicals into the ground.

And trust me when I say Pinterest is no help on the subject. Straws are ugly, and they’re arguably a little gross if they’ve been used. Even for my box of unused ones, there’s no ‘straw craft’ on the planet that I would participate in, unless it was to donate them to an artist doing a piece regarding the ecological damages of plastic. They look about as cheap as they are, and they aren’t a strong material. Even children’s crafts quickly end up broken or forgotten, which leads right back to the issue of disposal.

So what to do?

Be conscious. Straws have always rubbed me the wrong way, with how disposable they are, but my god is an iced caramel macchiato just the best on a hot summer Sunday. And you can bet that I’m hungover while enjoying it, in it’s plastic cancer death trap container, so there is a very small chance I’ll be bringing my own straw. But what about when the boyfriend and I go out for dinner this weekend? Does my water need a straw? Or the afternoon I inevitably break, and get Wendy’s for lunch with the office. Do I really need a straw, when we have a glassware stocked kitchen?

Personally, it’s been a huge struggle for me. I bought straws, because I felt like they were a staple, because I love straws. I used to be a smoker, and a big part of the smoking appeal was a partial oral fixation, and having a straw to chew on helped when I cut back and eventually quit. I’d even get a straw with hot takeout beverages just to have one. It’s taken a long time to really cut back on my usage of straws, and it started small at first, like not getting a straw in a restaurant with my coffee. While I still have moments where I reach for one, they’re fewer and far in between.

Little things make big changes, if we all work together. If you are a takeout master, and all you do is use one less straw a month, that’s 12 plastic straws a year. It’s 52 straws if you can cut one straw a week out of your life. I’m not even saying you should give up your favourite on the go beverage, I’m just asking you to put your lips to plastic like a heathen, once in a blue moon. Try it, you might just save a sea turtle.

And if anyone has any ideas on what I should do with my straws, let me know!

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