Quantcast
Insights
Eco Straws

David Suzuki: Straws Suck

Of all the plastic products we use and take for granted, plastic drinking straws are among the most unnecessary. Designed to be used once and discarded, their only real purpose is to keep your mouth from touching a glass or ice. It made more sense in the days when contaminated vessels were more of an issue.

Now, there's a movement to get people and businesses to ditch the straws. It may not seem like a big deal, but it is. In the U.S. alone, people discard 500 million straws every day, or more than 180 billion a year. That's about 1.4 million kilograms of plastic sent to landfills and into the oceans every day!


Drinking straws have a long history and weren't always a big problem. The first ones were made from straw, or any strawlike grass or plant. That changed in the 1880s when Washington, DC, resident Marvin Stone was drinking a mint julep through a rye grass stalk. He didn't like the residue it left in his drink, and so he wrapped paper around a pencil, removed the pencil, glued the paper together and a straw was born! In 1888, Stone patented a version made from manila paper coated with paraffin.

Forty years later, Joseph B. Friedman saw that his daughter was having difficulty drinking though a straight straw. He inserted a screw into a straw, wrapped dental floss around the ridges, removed the screw and invented the flexible or "bendy" straw, which he patented in 1937.

The explosion of plastic's popularity in the 1960s and into the '70s spelled the demise of the paper straw. After that, most drinking straw innovations were as much about marketing as function—including the twisty Krazy Straw and the wide straw-and-spoon combo used to drink slushy drinks.

Plastic straws are now ubiquitous. Whether you're ordering a takeout drink, cold coffee beverage, bar cocktail or glass of water in a restaurant, you'll likely get a plastic straw unless you request your drink without it. And you should. As a Treehugger article noted, they don't biodegrade, they're difficult to recycle, they leach toxic chemicals into the ground and they can end up in oceans. Often, they're incinerated, which puts toxins into the air.

Numerous campaigns have sprung up to get people to forgo drinking straws—or at least to use less environmentally damaging alternatives. Some restaurants have stopped automatically putting them in drinks, and others are using compostable straws, but most still offer plastic. International spirits company Bacardi has joined with the Surfrider Foundation for a "no-straw movement" as part of its Good Spirited: Building a Sustainable Future program. Surfrider, which has led campaigns against plastic bags, discarded cigarette butts and other ocean threats, has a "Straws Suck" campaign that encourages businesses to get rid of straws. In doing so, bars, restaurants and stores can save money as well as reduce environmental impacts.

As for alternatives, several companies sell re-usable and biodegradable straws made from metal, glass, bamboo, straw or paper. Some come with cleaning brushes. One company is even making straws from pasta, which can be cooked later!

According to the anti-straw group the Last Plastic Straw, 80 to 90 percent of marine debris is plastic, and as much as 80 percent of that came from plastics discarded on land. Researchers estimate eight million tonnes of plastic garbage enter the oceans from land every year. Plastic straws are among the top 10 litter items picked up during beach cleanups, with thousands picked up every year. Cigarette butts are the most numerous items picked up, with plastic bottles and caps, food wrappers and bags also in the top 10.

Avoiding plastic straws won't save the oceans or the world on its own, but as we've seen with plastic bags and public smoking, when people start thinking about their habits and making small changes, they can bring about shifts in consciousness that lead to wider societal changes. Ordering your drinks without straws is a small sacrifice but a big step to reducing the amount of plastic we produce and waste. Giving up disposable drink bottles, plastic grocery bags and other unnecessary plastic items, and encouraging businesses to offer alternatives, will also help.

Show Comments ()
Sponsored

One Million Trees Pledged to 'Trump Forest' to Offset President's Anti-Climate Agenda

Trump Forest—a global reforestation project aiming to offset President Trump's anti-climate policies—has reached 1 million trees after thousands of pledges from around the world.

Trump Forest was launched just under a year ago after POTUS announced he was pulling the U.S. from the Paris agreement.

Keep reading... Show less
The San Francisco Projection Department on Market Street with the #ExxonKnew campaign. Peg Hunter / Flickr

Time’s Up for California AG Becerra to Investigate #ExxonKnew and Prove He’s a Real Climate Leader

By May Boeve

With Trump and fossil fuel executives in the White House, any shot of powerful and lasting protections for our climate and communities will come from our cities and states. That's why it's so troubling that in California, one of the most progressive places in the U.S., current state Attorney General Xavier Becerra is failing to stand up to ExxonMobil and its ilk.

Keep reading... Show less
United Nations Development Programme

Climate Change, Conflict Leave 224 Million Undernourished in Africa

An official with the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warns that climate change and conflict are leading to food insecurity for millions of people living in Africa.

"Undernourishment appears to have risen from about 21 percent to nearly 23 percent between 2015 and 2016," Bukar Tijani, FAO's assistant director general for Africa, said Monday at a conference in Sudan.

Keep reading... Show less
Adventure
iStock

A Stargazer’s Guide to Protected Dark Skies

By Sabine Bergmann

For millennia, human beings have gazed into the firmament and been awed by the thousands of stars, galaxies, nebulae and other cosmic wonders visible to the naked eye. But in recent generations, much of humanity has become divorced from these marvels. Today, at least 80 percent of people living in the United States and Europe are so inundated with light pollution that they can't even see our own Milky Way, let alone our neighboring galaxies like Andromeda.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Shutterstock

Contaminated Cosmetics Pose Growing Risk to Consumers

By Scott Faber

A rash of product recalls, government warning notices and contaminated cosmetics may finally push Congress to give our broken cosmetics law a makeover.

This month, a key Senate committee announced a bipartisan plan to consider cosmetics reform legislation this spring and work for its passage by the full Senate this year.

Keep reading... Show less

America’s Cities Are the Vanguard for a Sustainable Future

By Henry Henderson

In the absence of federal leadership on climate change, America's cities have become the vanguard of the country's efforts to create a sustainable future. Recently, 233 mayors from 46 states and territories, representing 51 million residents across the country, have signed an open letter opposing the repeal of the Clean Power Plan (CPP), the nation's most comprehensive strategy to combat climate change.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Popular

Giant Sloth Fossils, Mayan Relics Discovered in World's Largest Flooded Cave

Archaeologists exploring the world's largest flooded cave—discovered last month just outside of Tulum, Mexico—have found an impressive treasure trove of relics.

The vast, 216-mile cave actually connects two of the largest flooded cave systems in the world, the 164-mile-long Sistema Sac Actun and the 52-mile-long Dos Ojos system. Aside from an extensive reserve of freshwater and rich biodiversity, the cave also contains an 11-mile-long, 66-food-deep cavern dubbed "the mother of all cenotes." Cenotes are natural pits, or underwater sinkholes, that are often holy sites in ancient Mayan culture.

Keep reading... Show less
A comet may have brought the mammoths to extinction. Royal Tyrell Museum in Drumheller, Alberta / Dave Smith / Flickr

The Day a Comet Set the Earth on Fire: Scientists Find Evidence in Ancient Ice Cores

By Tim Radford

Think of it as the day a comet set the earth on fire. Researchers have evidence of widespread and devastating forest fires around half the world—a blaze to blot out the light of the sun—and all of it at a geological boundary called the Younger Dryas, 13,500 years ago.

The evidence, they say, supports the hypothesis that planet Earth sailed through a cloud of shattered cometary dust and stones, and the atmospheric violence that followed was enough to set light to accumulated forest timber, peat and grasses across the Americas, Europe and western Asia.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!