A couple years ago, a video of a sea turtle with a straw stuck up its nostril went viral, causing an uproar to ban plastic straws in order to prevent them from further harming turtles and other marine life. The video raised awareness about the consequences of littering and sent multiple major companies such as Starbucks, Disney, and American Airlines to ban the use of plastic straws. The effort made to reduce use of harmful, non-biodegradable products surged; however, one problem still remains: plastic straws represent only a trifling percentage of the actual amount of plastic and garbage that is piling up. In other words, plastic straws are not the problem.
It’s a well-known fact that plastics are a main contributor of the accumulating patch of garbage in our oceans, typically in the form of utensils, bottles, or bags. However, the general public is still unaware of the amount it amasses to: a whopping 8 million metric tons, and even that is just in the oceans. It is estimated that there are about 8.3 billion plastic straws currently circulating our oceans, but that only accounts for 0.03% of plastics (Bloomberg). These statistics show that while these anti-straw movements may be effective for bringing attention to environmental problems, they do not actually make a noticeable difference. So, what will?
A survey conducted by scientists from Ocean Cleanup collected data from surface samples and aerial surveys to determine that more than 46% of the plastic in the garbage patch came from just fishing nets, and other fishing gear made up a good chunk of the rest. The abandoned fishing gear, sometimes called “ghost gear”, not only amplifies pollution but also disturbs marine habitats (Nature). In order to address the problem, a consensus was reached through a widespread agreement to start marking commercial fishing gear so that the item can be traced back to the person held responsible (FAO). By upgrading onshore facilities that dispose of the gear and initiating penalizations for littering, consistent efforts may show improvement of reducing plastic at sea and direct towards a long-term goal of cleansing our oceans completely (FOA).
As individuals, there’s not really much we can do that will make a significant difference in the amount of plastic that already exists. However, we can still make an effort to be as eco-friendly and considerate as possible. This means switching to reusable products, keeping our beaches and shores clean, making sure our trash goes into the trash can, and countless more. Although they may seem trivial and inconsequential, the little things we do to take care of the environment determine the future. Yes, plastic straws are not the real problem, but it can be the start to confronting bigger problems and seeing the value in small actions that amount to large impacts.
Joyce Kim, Grade 9
La Canada High School