Daily Planet: Why we need to stop using plastic straws


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People discard 500 million straws per day in the U.S. alone

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.

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 oceans every day!

Plastic straws are 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 notes, they don’t biodegrade, they’re difficult to recycle, they leach toxic chemicals into the ground and they can end up in oceans.

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, like Toronto’s 7 Numbers, 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.

Celebrities are on board, too, like North York’s Emmanuelle Chriqui, who accepted the Stop Sucking challenge led by the Lonely Whale Foundation. As for alternatives, several companies sell reusable 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 per cent of marine debris is plastic. Plastic straws are among the top 10 litter items picked up during beach cleanups.

Avoiding plastic straws won’t save the oceans or the world on its own, but when people start making small changes, it can 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.

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David Suzuki is the host of the CBC’s The Nature of Things and author of more than 30 books on ecology. 

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