Stop Sucking: The Life of Straws

Plastic straws are one of the biggest unnecessary conveniences of today’s society and culture. Along with plastic bags they are used for an average of just 20 minutes before being sent to landfill where they are destined to outlive their user by centuries. The problem with straws is the sheer volume of which they are consumed and how long they take to breakdown. Though it may seem innocent enough to sit at the bar stirring your drink with a plastic straw, when you take into consideration that millions of people think the same thing each day it really starts to add up.

In the United States, an estimated 500,000,000 plastic straws are used every single day which is enough straws to circle the planet two-and-a-half times, and this is happening every day. That breaks down to around 1.5 straws used by each citizen every day and 565 over a year. Once discarded they end up in your trash on their way to landfill to spend at least 450 years damaging our soil and environment.

If they don’t end up in landfill they’ll find other ways to be a damaging pain. Straws are consistently found in the top ten of plastic debris during coastal cleanups, along with plastic bags and bottles, making them a direct threat to our marine wildlife and oceans. It is estimated that over 90% of ocean life has ingested plastic in their lifetime, and that by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the sea.

If this isn’t scary enough, new research has found plastic fibres in tap water all around the world, with 83% of samples found to be polluted, meaning that people are consuming plastic particles on a daily basis. Considering that 8 million tonnes of plastic is dumped into the ocean every year, which is then eventually broken down into micro-plastics and ingested by marine life, and perhaps even you, these figures are quite alarming as well as being eye opening to one of our dirty habits.

It seems that the use of a tube for drinking has forever been popular, with paper straws and dried wheat stalks being popular in both Europe and America in the 19th century and South America using straws as a filtration device for drinking the popular Yerba Mate tea since before the 16th century. But it was the introduction of the single use plastic straw that has made a permanent scar on the history of the planet.

This came about after polio and tuberculosis hit America in the early 1900s which lead to the population becoming increasingly aware about the spreading of disease. In a plea to keep customers happy soda fountains started to offer paper straws with their shared reusable glasses so that no contact came between glass and person.

Fast forward to the 1950s as McDonald’s revolutionised the fast food industry by replacing their reusable drinking glasses with disposable takeaway cups and straws resulting in a low cost, faster service for them and this naturally progressed in the 60s as fast food chains began to take over the food industry. Since plastic straws and utensils were cost-effective, the plastic obsession had begun.

Even though they’re generally made from the versatile plastic, polypropylene, straws aren’t widely recycled due to their small size resulting in rarely being recovered at recycling banks, and that is only if they are sent to recycling in the first place. The ginormous number of straws ‘needed’ and the ever growing throw-away approach in the food industry (takeaway, eating out more than cooking, home delivery services) means more straws need to be made.

The issues aren’t entirely stemming from the disposal side of the life of the plastic straw as manufacturing more calls for more oil and gas extraction as well as more electricity to power the plastic production, transport the straws to distributors and ship materials to the manufacturing site. It’s a constant circle of wasting our precious natural resources on an object that will be thrown into landfill after 20 minutes of use.

Consider the fact that nearly every single piece of plastic ever made still exists, which totals to about 9.1 billion tonnes, before you reach for that plastic straw to stir your gin and tonic at your next Sunday sesh. The good news though is that if you really do want a straw, there are plenty of reusable eco-friendly alternatives you can get your hands on.

From trendy glass ones, to fast growing and compostable bamboo or chic stainless steel, there’s a noticeable increase in environmentally aware companies emerging in the market offering any type of straw you could ever need from the classic long straight style, bent, as well as short straws. Not only are they beneficial for the environment but they can be seriously stylish and beautiful. Never has it been so simple to ask for a drink sans straw when out on the town.

It is important to remember that it is up to us as consumers to dictate what products are in demand. What you chose to purchase, or what to avoid and therefore lessening the demand for said product, ultimately helps to determine what products are made. What would be the use in generating billions of disposable straws if everyone was using a reusable and recyclable one? Or not even using them at all as a lot of young Australians are beginning to push.

One of a number of groups aiming to flatten the straw industry is The Last Straw which is an Australian campaign that is aiming to end the use of plastic straws around the country. Their vision is to change the culture around plastic straw use and disposal, from consumers to venues. They are beginning to find more and more people aware of their environment and understanding the power of their consumer culture. More than just a trend it’s a permanent and intentional shift for people to start living their values and making their lifestyle match their beliefs. Find more information here here.

If you’re still on the fence as to why you should approach your fave bev with a different sipping method, watch this video showcasing the negative effects straws have on animals. VIEWER WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT –