Is the Fight Against Plastic Straws a Waste of Time?

Yes, but also no

If environmental causes could be on trend then the plastic-straw ban is totally having its moment RN. You’ve probably heard about it through your activist friend’s Facebook rants or signs in your local coffee shop proudly declaring themselves ‘straw-free’. The plastic-straw movement has gained some serious momentum in recent years, with some countries, such as the UK and India, announcing plans to ban single-use plastics like this completely.

But how much of a difference is refusing a plastic straw really going to make? And are there any negative repercussions to eliminating plastic straws completely? And how TF are we supposed to drink from those massive cups of Coke at the movies without a straw? Won’t it spill all over us?!

Here’s what you need to know about the movement to ban plastic straws:

Why does my aunt on Facebook want everyone to stop using plastic straws so badly?

You’ve probably seen posts online featuring the phrase ‘#StopSucking’, blasting restaurants who are still providing plastic straws, or the infamous video of a straw being pulled out of a sea turtle’s nostril. The plastic straw is not having a good time RN, and with good reason as they’re made up of plastic that will never disappear completely. They ultimately end up in the sea either as whole straws, ready to stick themselves in some poor animal’s nose, or broken down into micro-plastics, which aren’t visible but give the sea a gross, soup-y look and aren’t good for the health of sea life.

Straws are so small; what difference will banning straws really make?

The truth is straws make up a really small percentage of the ocean’s waste (0,03%!) and about half of it actually comes from fishing nets. If we eliminate plastic straws from earth then sure, there will be less plastic straws in the sea – however, if we’re serious about cleaning up the ocean, it’s the government, not tiny coffee shops, that needs to make moves.

This is not a reason to throw in the towel and start using plastic straws, though. The movement will hopefully create what is called ‘the spillover effect’. The theory is that by doing something small and easy that helps a cause (in this case, the environment) we are more likely to keep up this kind of behaviour in other areas.

When you refuse a plastic straw, you feel good about yourself. You might begin to become more aware of what else is plastic in your world and try to find ways to eliminate that waste too, like shopping at a packaging-free grocery store or bringing your own bag to Pick n Pay. It also starts conversations that begin with ‘OMG, this is so annoying; how am I supposed to get through this double-thick milkshake without a straw?!’ and lead onto bigger discussions that raise people’s awareness about the environment and what a mess humans have made.

So see saying ‘no’ to straws is a step in the right direction. Taking the easy step of refusing a straw makes you feel like a bit of an environmentalist, and more likely to engage with other environmental issues, such as signing important petitions to put pressure on the government.


What’s my alternative? Am I supposed to just use my mouth or something?

Yes, just use your mouth, like in the olden days. If you’re someone who isn’t willing to sacrifice their lipstick to save the planet or are worried about teeth discolouration or just like to sip on things through a straw, there are some alternatives. You can buy your own straw that you carry around with you anywhere you’re planning on doing some sipping. Sip Conscious is a local brand who make stainless-steel straws that come in a cute bag plus a little brush to clean it with (crucial for smoothie sipping; no-one wants chia seeds permanently stuck to their fancy straw), or you could get ones made from glass or bamboo.

Okay, so let’s get rid of all straws then

Not so fast. In the movement to ban straws, one group of people are often completely disregarded: disabled people. There are many people who actually wouldn’t be able to drink at all were it not for bendy plastic straws. And the alternatives aren’t viable: paper straws disintegrate, making them not appropriate for someone who takes longer to drink, and steel or glass straws could be dangerous to someone with a tick or tremor. It is proposed that while we try to create a biodegradable alternative fit for people with disabilities, shops and restaurants keep a supply of bendy straws available for anyone who needs one.

What else can I do to help the planet?

Refusing a plastic straw is a good start, and there are other steps you can take to reduce your waste:

  • Take your own bags to the grocery store
  • Shop at food markets or shops that don’t use packaging, like Nude Foods
  • Buy items that come in single-use plastic (like rice or pasta) in bulk.
  • Get a reusable coffee cup for all your takeaway coffees.

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