On a hot summer day last July, I had ordered one of Starbucks’ most popular summer drinks: an iced Strawberry Acai Lemonade. Upon receiving my drink, however, I had noticed something different: the addition of a sippy cup-style lid and the loss of Starbucks’s signature green straw. Even though I had known about this upcoming change, it was still shocking to see. As one of the largest corporations in the world, Starbucks has vowed to ban all plastic straws from almost 30,000 stores worldwide by 2020, according to Starbucks Stories. Though it seems that Starbucks is leading the standard for environmental responsibility in large companies, will eliminating plastic straws really help our environment?
In simple terms, no. Although replacing single-use plastic straws with reusable ones, or skipping out on a straw at your local coffee shop might seem obvious indicators that there is less plastic going to landfills and oceans, there are underlying reasons as to why these alternatives are only costly and ineffective. Using reusable straws or no straws at all has proven to cause greater environmental harm or, at its very best, create no tangible improvement in the environment.
Contrary to popular belief, eradicating plastic straws does not “make a difference”. According to National Geographic, plastic straws only constitute 0.025 percent of the 8 million tons of plastic waste that fill the oceans every year, yet eliminating plastic straws has been the focus of major environmental campaigns and ‘green’ consumer products. Theoretically, if the same efforts were made for plastic water bottles, which constitute 15 percent of waste in the ocean, a much larger change would have been achievable. Although eliminating disposable, plastic straws is an easy way to help the environment without making any major changes to one’s lifestyle, it’s ineffective and unnecessary at a time when the amount of plastic in the oceans can outweigh the amount of fish in just three decades, according to The Washington Post.
Reusable straws are not all that they seem to be, and their negative impacts defeat the purpose of throwing away your plastic straw. Metal straws, in particular, create an enormous carbon footprint by releasing toxic waste from mining metal, carbon emissions from shipping, and even more waste from packaging. According to Humboldt State University, a single stainless steel straw releases 217 grams of carbon dioxide, compared to the 1.46 grams of carbon dioxide released by a single plastic straw. In the long run, a metal straw may have a greater positive impact than that of a single-use straw, but only if each straw is used over 149 times. The process of creating, transporting, and packaging reusable straws creates a large carbon footprint and adds to the physical waste produced. Alongside metal straws, paper straws have similar effects. Paper straws are still a single-use item, just like plastic straws, and can take a greater amount of resources and energy to create them. Thousands of trees must be cut down and carbon dioxide gases are emitted from shipping, as well as the factories that produce them. According to the Atlantic, paper straws don’t break down fully and are comprised of microplastics, which enter the body systems of aquatic life, and eventually into our own.
Even in the case where reusable straws are helpful to the environment; there are better, more effective ways of creating major change. Recycling plastic bottles, buying fewer products that require shipping, and buying food in bulk are all much more effective methods of producing less waste than not using a plastic straw. Given the rate at which our oceans and aquatic wildlife are dying, there need to be greater changes to how we minimize our waste and conform to eco-friendlier options, which can impact both human and aquatic lives in our future.
Caroline Kim, Grade 12
Oakton High School