Refusing single-use plastic straws is the newest “in”. In order to save the planet one must purchase a reusable metal straw and carry it everywhere they go – or so the trend seems. Eliminating plastic straws to “save the turtles” is a great idea to get people to acknowledge how much plastic they use on the daily, but perhaps it’s kept people from doing anything more. Plastic straws are only about 2% of our plastic problem, so why are most people willing to give up their straws but nothing more?
It’s become a fairly common occurrence for environmentally conscious customers to kindly reject the offer of straws with their beverages. It’s not given much thought until after they finished their meals and request four to-go containers and bags…which, incidentally, are plastic. Yet, these customers certainly think they are making a difference based upon their refusal of a straw. It doesn’t even register in their minds that asking for larger pieces of plastic is defeating the purpose of rejecting a simple straw. Perhaps people don’t know how much of a change they could be making and how to go about it in a meaningful way.
Eric Nord is a professor at Greenville University with a Ph.D. in Environmental Biology. Speaking on the topic of plastic straws, “Plastic straws – yes they are a problem, but they are a small part of a bigger problem. So yes, we should refuse them, but is that doing your part? Not really. We need to get better at refusing all single-use plastic. I’m sure that there are people out there that are using a reusable straw to benefit the environment, but they are still buying bottled water.”
Nord explains how eliminating single-use plastics from our lives is very hard, especially for college students. Students eat in various places outside of the home every day which makes it difficult to keep track of how much waste is actually being accumulated. Nord challenges students to keep track of everything that would be thrown out over the course of a week. At the end of each day take inventory of what was thrown away, and then at the end of the week calculate how much was wasted and could really be recycled.
It is estimated that there are now 150 million metric tons of plastic in the ocean. Every year another 8 million tons is added – that’s about five grocery bags full of plastic waste on every foot of shoreline around the world. It seems to be a popular idea that recycling will solve this problem, but recycling is actually at the bottom of the list. “We feel like recycling is doing our part as well. We have this ‘oh I have all this plastic stuff, but I recycled it’ mentality. If we go back to the three R’s of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, though, recycling is the last option. The best thing we can do is to reduce the amount of stuff we are buying, particularly single use things. Then we try to reuse the things we have and when we can’t anymore that’s when we recycle,” Nord states.
As North Americans, we live a very privileged life and the majority of people don’t want to give up their “things”. It’s easy to pick one simple thing to eliminate, such as plastic straws, and believe that’s the only thing we are responsible for.
While a reusable straw may make one feel like a superhero saving the planet, it’s more like saving two cats stuck in a tree while leaving the rest of the human race to die. So why only fix 2% of the problem when there is so much more that can be done to address the other 98%? Don’t let the straw be where the change stops. Reduce the amount of things bought, Reuse more, and Recycle when things become unusable. Practicing these things will make a bigger change than just a few metal straws.
A podcast with Eric Nord is available to listen to below that also covers the straw situation along with topics such as government plastic bans, North America’s plastic problem compared to other parts of the world, as well as the future of our planet without significant changes in plastic consumption.
Media by Victoria Fisher