#StopSucking: The Ban on Plastic Straws

Is the movement to phase out plastic straws as beneficial as it seems?

Ashley Courtney, Staff Reporter

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All across the US, cities and businesses have placed a ban on plastic straws. In July of 2018, Seattle became the largest city to officially ban plastic straws, with many other cities following suit. Corporate giants have picked up the trend–Starbucks plans to taper off plastic straws by July of 2020, McDonald’s publicized its future ban in UK and Ireland locations, and companies like Disney, American Airlines, and Hilton have committed to banning or limiting plastic straws in the future. Tons of people have switched to carrying around reusable metal straws as an alternative as well. This movement, also known as the #StopSucking movement, has swept the world.

Why Plastic Straws?

Approximately eight million tons of plastic flow into the ocean each year, and it is estimated that more than five trillion pieces of plastic debris live in the ocean alongside the cute fishes and majestic whales you see in the mainstream media. What you don’t see, however, is the cute fish tangled in nets discarded by careless fishermen and whales slowly starving to death due to the sheer amount of plastic bags in their stomachs. Trash is often mistaken for food, and when ingested, can cause irreversible damage to the consumer. It is predicted that straws make up 0.025 percent of the annual flow of plastic into the ocean.

Plastic straws are small and lightweight, making them easy to end up in the ocean as litter. The plastic is not biodegradable, and as the plastic slowly breaks down, it is easily ingested by marine animals.

Starbucks’s new alternative to plastic straws.  Photo credit: Google Images.

The movement to phase out harmful plastic straws is honest in intention, but there are still flaws in the reinvention of beverage cups. Starbucks, for example, plans to replace their plastic straws with “strawless lids”—the catch, these new lids will be made of more plastic than the straws. The company claims that the new lids are easier for recycling systems to capture, but many question the validity of this change.

Will the extinction of plastic straws even make a dent in the growing population of ocean trash?”

The movement is admirable in nature, but questionable in the application. Plastic straws are such a small percentage of total garbage in the ocean. Will the extinction of plastic straws make a dent in the growing population of ocean trash?

Most likely not. Oceans are so contaminated with garbage like plastic bags, cigarette butts, fishing nets, bottles, and wrappers that a ban on plastic straws will not make much of a difference.  It’s not a happy thought or an exciting idea, but it is critical that we—as civilized human beings—need to realize the true extent of ocean pollution and act quickly.

Despite the positive goals, the #StopSucking movement is futile if only limited to plastic straws. If any change is to occur, what is needed is a widespread movement that incorporates all plastic products, not just the comparatively insignificant straws. Yes, the plastic straw ban is better than nothing, but the cruel reality of ocean pollution needs to be faced with much more change.