The last straw
Plastic once seemed like the answer to everything – dream packaging to manufacturers and housewives alike. Durable, portable, fashionable and inexpensive. Tupperware parties were all the rage.
Years ago it became common knowledge that certain plastics were being absorbed into our bodies. Certain additives were banned in baby bottles. Now, more than ever there is concern over plastic contamination, both of the body and of the planet.
There are millions of pieces of plastic accumulating in the oceans, the largest of which is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, there is plastic buried in our landfills that may never break down and there are plastics clogging up our recycling systems, making them less effective.
Campaigns to raise awareness about the health risks to people and the planet are doing a lot to dissuade people from buying bottled water, to steer clear of excess packaging and now straws. The straw has become a symbol of unnecessary and excess plastic production and it seems unlikely that this particular portion of the industry was prepared for the backlash that has been unleashed. The plastic cutlery companies and makers of the red Solo cup were likely primed for some kind of fallout when all sighed relief as the drinking straw took the brunt of the vengeance.
Do people seriously feel righteous walking into a fast food restaurant, ordering a tray of food wrapped in plastic coated paper with a side of plastic cutlery and some plastic ketchup packets, but refusing the straw that is stuck into a plastic lid?
This is when these social media fueled campaigns lose credibility.
It only works if people use the straw as a stepping stone to examining the full scope of their use of plastic.
This is a global problem and one that is bad in the countries that use and manufacture plastics and even worse in developing countries where waste management is less sophisticated.
According to the organization Plastic Oceans, more than 8 million tons of plastic is dumped into our oceans every year.
Many are trying to find a way to stop the spread of plastics and some people are working on ways to clean up the oceans (a soon to be deployed device invented by a Dutch student will collect half of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, about 36,000 tonnes of plastic, in about five years).
Microplastics in the oceans harm the health of sea creatures and record levels of microplastics are being detected in Arctic sea ice.
A product thought to make shipping cheaper and food storage easier is, decades later, poisoning the planet and its inhabitants. As is always the case, the industry at large has known about the problem but is slow to change. It’s not a popular statement, but it is up to government to put limits on manufacturing. As always, as consumers we do have influence in what makes it to the shelf.
Yes, we can say no to straws next time placing an order at a bar or restaurant but further action and intention is needed.