More than plastic straws

By now, you’ve seen that plastic straws or the lack thereof have become a poignant point in the discussion on how to save the environment. But as more and more companies and stores crack down on these drinking devices, more and more questions about their role in our environment, as well as plastic consumption, are being brought up.

Companies like McDonald’s and Starbucks have started implementing new limits and bans on their plastic straw intakes—with Starbucks making new strawless lids that eliminate the need for straws and McDonald’s swapping out plastic straws for recyclable alternatives. Don’t get me wrong, the fact that being environmentally friendly has become a mainstream topic is great and a necessary step forward in helping save our planet—but there’s far more we could be doing about plastic waste.

The plastic straw movement has been pushed forward by a single statistic; that Americans use 500 million plastic straws each day. This number has been called out by many critics due to the fact that it was found by a 9-year-old. In later research, that number has been found to be much lower. One of the most abundant products that contributes to the ocean’s waste, though, is fishing nets. While the video of the sea turtle getting a plastic straw pulled out of it goes viral, shouldn’t we be talking about the hundreds of animals who get trapped in commercial fishing nets and die? Along with this new crusade against plastic straws, shouldn’t we be cracking down on commercial fishing?

The new war on plastic straws has put much of the blame on the individual and doesn’t hold big companies accountable. Yes, finding plastic straw alternatives is a stepping stone to helping our environment, and it surely makes some difference in the mass amounts of plastic waste; However, what about the plastic big companies create? The unnecessary packaging? How about the restaurants that don’t recycle at all?

There are many ways to help save the environment, but a complete ban on plastic straws is not the answer. People with disabilities have been outspoken about how their needs are largely ignored in the talk of plastic straw bans. Many disabled people and small children rely on straws to drink independently or at all. While there are alternatives, such as reusable straws, paper or bamboo straws—these straws lack in durability, comfort, and flexibility that the plastic straw provides. However, there are many ways to decrease our plastic straw use rather than banning it altogether. Instead of immediately handing out straws, servers should take an offer-upon-request-approach, so that people who need them have access to them.

More and more young people are getting passionate about the planet—and for good reason. Our generation will be the ones responsible for the planet and taking care of it. We have more work to do than the generations before us because our planet is in worse shape than ever before. That’s why doing more than just ditching plastic straws is so important: if we don’t do something now, things will only continue to get worse. It’s not something we can leave for the next generation, because by then, there may be nothing to leave.

By all means, skipping the straw during your next meal out is genuinely a great way to reduce your own waste and will make a difference. However, in the long run, saving our environment requires more than just a ban on plastic straws. Real change has to be made, policies have to be put in place and people in general just need to care more about what they’re putting out into the world. Plastic straws are a great way to start—but we need to be doing more.

So, what can you do, other than sipping your drink instead of sucking it? Here are 5 ways you can reduce your own personal plastic consumption:

1. Buy in bulk: buying in bulk reduces the unnecessary packaging that buying individually comes with. Plus, it’s usually cheaper!

2. Limit your use of single-use plastics: this includes plastic silverware, straws, plastic bags and even produce bags. Wherever possible, bring your own reusable items. A good way to do this is to always keep reusable grocery or produce bags in your car, so you’re never without them.

3. Go to farmers markets instead of grocery stores: grocery stores have a lot packaging that farmers markets don’t have. It’s also a great way to support local farmers and ensure your food is always fresh.

4. Clean up after yourself – especially at beaches: make sure you’re not leaving anything behind before you leave the shore. And, if you have some extra time, try and pick up some stray trash as well! One big source of ocean pollution, even more prominent than plastic straws, are cigarette butts. Make sure you’re always throwing everything out and, when possible, recycling.

5. Recycle: this one may seem obvious, but sometimes it’s easy to forget. If you can’t find a recycling bin, bring it with you until you can find a recycling bin. If you see a plastic cup at the top of a trash bin at a restaurant, grab it and throw it into the recycling bin. Do your part to help!

Alison Roller is a third-year student English major who minors in journalism. ✉ AR875447@wcupa.edu.

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