It was something I never thought about before — the single use plastic straw. A convenient marvel invented in the 60’s, straws are used in almost every restaurant. They are vital to the industry, right? What’s a milkshake without a classic red and white stripped straw? There is not much thought put into the use of these long plastic tubes, and even less thought put into how they are disposed.
Research conducted by Eco Cycle, one of the largest non-profit recyclers in the United States, shows Americans on average use 500 million straws a day, and I’m sure a similar figure can apply to Canada. From the restaurant industry, bars, and even the cinema, straws are handed out freely. Your standard drink comes with a straw — it’s just a reality.
The plastic drinking straw causes more damage than we can imagine. When improperly disposed, these non-biodegradable items often makes their way to water. Straws can disrupt natural ecosystems in the environment, putting wildlife in danger, and often end up sitting as waste around the city. In the summer of 2015, an Olive Ridley sea turtle had to have a plastic straw removed from its nostril. The straw was only noticed when scientists were collecting data on sea turtles mating. A few months later, in Costa Rica, the same group of scientists had to remove a plastic fork from the nostril of another turtle. The Olive Ridley turtles are relatively average sized turtles with a length of approximately 2 feet and a weight of 100 pounds.
The idea of banning plastic straws is not new and has been buzzing in other countries since 2014. Certain bars in the United Kingdom have restricted the use of straws and in California there is a strong movement to cleanup plastic straws along the beaches before they end up in the ocean. In August 2017, a group in Peterborough, Ontario is following suit. The Straws Suck campaign is advocating the use of reusable straws and would prefer if residents of Peterborough refuse straws for their drinks.
Jessica Carrera, the founder of an organization called Random Acts of Green, hopes to educate the public about entertaining sustainable options in utensils. According to Carrera, the average “straw life” is a about four minutes, and with 500 million straws used in North America, its harming a lot of animals as well as the environment.
When the numbers are explained in that way, it really makes you wonder why restaurants still provide plastic straws. Our society has become so used to the plastic straw that we automatically use it because it’s given to us. People are conditioned to accept this straw as part of their meal.
Over the years, environmentally-friendly and sustainable acts have been made into legislation, with a ban on plastic water bottles and the charging of fees for plastic grocery bags. Focus has now turned to plastic straws. Toronto bars are making the move to not give out straws with their drinks. You can see more containers on bar tables with straws in them, so users can help themselves if they feel it necessary to get a straw. More businesses that are concerned about conservation are using these methods and promoting social media hashtags such as #refusethestraw or #strawsareforsuckers. There are two bars in downtown Toronto that are participating in this anti- straw movement— The Dakota Tavern and The Gift Shop Cocktail Bar.
Please note this process takes time and even I am guilty of using straws. At this moment, as I am typing this, I’m drinking an iced tea from Aroma. My drink was given with a plastic straw that I unconsciously used and discarded with my cup once I was finished. So what can you do? First you can make a conscious effort to say NO to straws and encourage those around you to do the same. You can also encourage your local businesses to say no to the straw and invest in reusable straws made from paper, stainless steel or even glass. For more details, check out some awesome sites such as strawesome, plasticpollutioncoalition.org, and thelastplasicstraw.org. You can now make an active pledge to not ‘suck.’