How Important are Straws, Really?
Writing: Eilish Newmark
Illustration: Isi Williams
Since David Attenborough’s Blue Planet 2 documentary series and the viral video (1) that showed a sea turtle with a straw stuck up its nostril, the danger of straws on the environment has become the soundbite of a new surge in attempts to reduce single-use plastics. It seems that, as ‘millennials’ and members of ‘Generation Z’, we are set on making a difference in the way we treat our planet, but have we become too hung up on so-called trivial matters such as plastic straws?
It takes up to 200 years for a plastic straw to decompose and in 2017, plastic straws were the 11th most commonly found ocean rubbish. Clearly, single use straws are a huge problem and honing in on one easy way to protect the planet from irreversible damage can be beneficial. Overall, about 80% of all litter in the oceans is made of plastic; however, straws only account for 4% of this. Whilst this doesn’t mean that cutting out straws is insignificant, it also means that this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to single-use plastics.
Possibly the worst culprit for polluting the oceans is the fishing industry and their abandoned gear. This is particularly the case in the world’s largest collection of floating rubbish, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, that lies between Hawaii and California, where the majority of rubbish is made up not of straws and plastic bottles, but fishing nets. A new study in Scientific Reports has found that fishing nets account for 46% of the rubbish in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and the majority of the rest is made up of fishing ropes, oyster spacers, eel traps, crates and baskets.
As individuals, it is hard to know how we can help to reduce this plastic pollution from the fishing industry. Nevertheless, the beauty of our obsession with banning straws is that it is an easily achieved change that has an impact. What we should now do is ensure that we are more ambitious and dedicated in cutting down our single-use plastic. Keep cups, reusable sanitary products, bamboo toothbrushes, reusable cotton pads, canvas bags, and reusable water bottles are just some of the quick ways that you can make a noticeable difference to the planet. As David Attenborough says: ‘Never before have we had such an awareness of what we are doing to the planet, and never before have we had the power to do something about that.’ So, whilst it may seem like a cliché and an embarrassment to whip out your metal straw, you are winning in the eyes of the environment and future generations. A zero-plastic, zero-waste life truly could be the future if we put our minds to it.
Check out these websites for more info or to order yourself some eco-friendly goodies that will last you forever: