Straws are NOT the issue.

By Ruby Cairns 

Following the Keep Cup trend is the latest craze, giving up plastic straws.

The anti-straw movement begun after a video surfaced back in 2015 of a sea turtle with a plastic straw stuck in its nose. The video went viral and activists threw the blame over to consumers, which initiated the craze.

Despite being fuelled by good intentions, unfortunately this ‘hip trend’ is futile in its attempts to lower the mammoth amount of plastic which enters our oceans every day.

There is no doubt that any kind of one-use plastic is bad for the environment, yet experts agree consumers are a tiny percentage of the overall problem. 

As an individual, proclaiming your stance as “anti straw” is partly a feel good mechanism. The feeling that you are making a difference is a similar one to the heroic feeling you get handing your Keep Cup over to your barista every Monday morning. 

Of course the fact that a single straw can last up to 2000 years in the ocean is slightly terrifying, yet it is important to know the facts before you go preaching about their impact on the environment. Plastic straws make up a tiny 0.003% of the 8 billion kilograms of plastic which enters the ocean in a given year. 

So, what’s the underlying problem?

Basically it shifts the responsibility from large, powerful corporations which are the main waste producers, to the individuals. Who then feel to blame for the minimal amount of plastic they actually waste. 

Approximately 46% of the plastic in our ocean today comes from fishing nets and other fishing gear.

The World Animal Protection Program reported “640,000 tons of fishing gear are lost and pollute oceans each year”. 

This should be our main concern as fishing nets are not only polluting the ocean, but harming wildlife and contributing to the endangerment of marine life.

And before companies consider banning straws all together, the disadvantages this would create for the elderly, stroke victims or people with physical disabilities need to be considered. 

“A plastic straw allows people with disabilities to drink a beverage without having to rely on other people for assistance,” said Amy Scherer, from the National Disability Rights Network.

The obvious solution would be to implement the use of paper straws, yet these are not as effective nor can be used multiple times. 

Despite the hype, refusing to use plastic straws is not a realistic solution to combatting our plastic addiction, and is rather a shift from more useful efforts. Perhaps the solution lies in more sustainable, eco friendly products rather than a lack of straws altogether. 

The terrifying reality is that by the year 2050, there will be more plastic weight in the ocean than fish. So I’m not saying we all shouldn’t be taking active steps to reduce the amount of plastic we use (and take for granted) in our lives.

Reducing the amount of small, one use plastic like straws is a good start. But be mindful of the bigger issue, which isn’t the complimentary straw provided in your Saturday night vodka lime.