Easy Zero Waste Swap! Give Plastic Straws The Flick and #swapthestraw
Author: Sandy Abram Date Posted:24 April 2019
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Reducing your plastic waste and living a zero waste life doesn’t have to be hard, expensive or time consuming. Just say no to plastic straws and you’ll be well on your way to being an eco hero. Reducing your plastic waste and living a zero waste life doesn’t have to be hard, expensive or time consuming. Just say no to plastic straws and you’ll be well on your way to being an eco hero.
Reducing your plastic waste and living a zero waste life doesn’t have to be hard, expensive or time consuming. Just say no to plastic straws and you’ll be well on your way to being an eco hero.
If you’ve seen that video of the poor male sea turtle having a 12 cm plastic straw pulled from his nostril by worried marine conservation biologists in Costa Rica, you’ll know how dire the problem of plastic has become. (It’s thought he swallowed it by accident and then tried to cough it up, in doing so getting it stuck in his nostril.) All single use plastics are problematic, but straws more so, due to their size.
Being small, it makes them difficult to recycle.
Much like plastic bottle tops, plastic straws are light in weight and can get lost in the recycling process, meaning they end up in landfill along with other ‘non recyclables’ or in the oceans.
And that’s if they can be recycled at all. Most plastic straws are made from polypropylene, or ‘type 5’ plastic. This type of plastic can be recycled (or more accurately, repurposed into something else, as plastic will never completely degrade or disappear - meaning that every single piece of plastic ever produced still exists in some form or another, shocking, huh?) but many kerbside recycling programmes and local councils don’t currently recycle it.
Plus, being so small and seemingly insignificant here at the Wholesome Hub, we suspect that many people could be tossing them in the regular bin anyway. But when you think how many millions of straws are used on a daily basis around the world, they don’t seem so small or insignificant anymore.
The Problem with Plastic Straws
Reports vary, but its estimated that Australians get through around 10 million straws each day.
Yep, that’s 10 million straws every single day. This is an estimation. Nobody goes around counting. But we can assume from this that around the world billions of plastic straws are used each year. Whatever the exact figure (we’re not ones to quote figures without backing them up, and honestly, do a Google search and you’ll get all kinds of figures coming up), we all know it’s a LOT.
And the real, annoying bugbear we have with this, is that most of the time, straws are completely unnecessary.
We know that in some cases they are necessary. Not enough is said about people with certain disabilities, illnesses or low mobility needing to use straws in order to drink. So we mustn’t collectively and automatically demonise someone for drinking with a straw without knowing the facts. But with so many plastic free alternatives to straws, many of them stocked on this website, we do have a duty to highlight that plastic straws just aren’t necessary. (More on those alternatives in a while.)
Plastic Straws and the Environment
Plastics will never fully degrade. Instead, they get broken up into smaller and smaller pieces over time, and these are known as microplastics. If you left a plastic straw out in the elements (plus throw in some tidal action) for 100 years, it might look like it’s degraded. But microplastics can be so small that they’re invisible to the naked eye.
When these microplastics end up in the oceans (through beach littering, unscrupulous rubbish collectors, fishing boats, plastic overboard from passenger vessels and cruise ships and being washed or blown into the sea from landfill) they become a problem that is far from invisible.
Fish, seabirds and other ocean wildlife eat them because they’re either too small to see, or they resemble tasty looking food.
So aside from the risk of a plastic straw stuck in the nose, sealife run the risk of plastic in their intestines.
This does of course mean that the risk of microplastics ending up in the human food chain is very real. We eat the big fish, who eat the little fish, who eat the microplastics. It hasn’t ever been proven but surely plastics in the intestines of humans is only a matter of time?
You may have seen the upsetting images of deceased fish or birds with their stomach contents displaying all kinds of inedible, indigestible plastic trash they’ve unwittingly consumed. This has led to their untimely, and probably extremely uncomfortable death, either through devastating stomach injury, suffocation or blockages meaning the creature cannot digest food.
Sadly it seems that the beautifully elegant albatross is particularly susceptible to dying from plastic consumption, especially the chicks. Filmmaker Chris Jordan highlighted this in his film Albatross, during which he tells the distressing and heartbreaking story of tens of thousands of dead chicks on the remote Pacific island of Midway. It’s even more saddening to learn that these creatures have no natural predators on the island, yet they’re dying in their thousands due to human actions miles away.
Plastics in the oceans also harm coral reefs, a problem very close to the heart of many Australians. According to Dr Joleah Lamb from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, “corals that are in contact with plastic have an 89 per cent likelihood of having disease, compared to just 4 per cent iof the corals that didn't have plastic waste touching them”.
How Many Straws Make it to the Oceans?
Again, we can only make a conservative estimate. It’s thought that plastic straws are the 11th most common item contributing to the plastics in our oceans. That doesn't sound like too much of a problem does it? Surely there's bigger problems?
They make up around 3% of the 8 million tonnes of plastics that make their way into the oceans around the world each year. So that’s 240,000 tonnes of straws entering the sea every year. And that sounds like a problem to us. Especially considering how lightweight they are, so to make it up to 240,000 tonnes, it must mean phenomenal numbers.
How many thousands of tonnes of them go to landfill each year is an unknown, yet extremely frightening, number.
How We Can All Make a Difference
How many times have you gone to a bar, restaurant or coffee shop, ordered a drink and it’s been served with a plastic straw (when it’s then too late to do anything about, as it won’t be used in another drink)? Even more frustratingly, how many times have you had more than one straw plus a plastic stirrer in your cocktail?!
Remembering to say no to the straw when ordering is a habit that’s hard to adapt to at first. If you’re in a loud bar or nightclub with a huge queue for drinks, then it’s even trickier. But you know what they say about habits, they’re only formed by repetitive actions. (They also say motivation is what gets you started, habit is what keeps you going, so if that motivation is there, don’t waste it!)
Many cities and businesses across the country are starting to make progress in the fight against plastics. There are initiatives and bans on single use plastics including plastic straws popping up all over, so seeking out these places will make things much easier for us all.
Alternatives to Plastic Straws
We did promise to mention some fabulous alternatives to plastic straws, so here they are. We’re a big fan of all of them, and we’re always on the lookout for inspirational brands offering reusable alternatives to all single use plastics. They’re not only eco friendly, but as they contain no nasty plastic chemicals such as BPA, they’re better for our own health too!
Paper Straws - Although not reusable, paper straws are much more environmentally friendly. Paper waste can be recycled, although not if it’s heavily contaminated with food or drink. So if you do opt for paper straws then a quick rinse before popping them into the paper recycling bin would be great. Paper straws can also become a bit soggy if used for a long time, especially by the littlest members of the family who love to give them a chew!
Stainless Steel Straws - We stock the Ever Eco range of stainless steel straws. They come in straight or bent versions, in packs of two or four. And they’re terribly fashionable too, coming in elegant silver or rose gold. The straight ones are ideal for less fuss, nothing gets trapped in the bends, and the bent ones make a fancy cocktail look even fancier. They all come with a cleaning brush, so even the bent ones are eas to clean, and can all be safely put in the dishwasher. Keep them at home, in your bag, on your desk or in the car and use them over and over again.
Bamboo Straws - We also stock bamboo reusable straws too. They’re made from 100% natural bamboo which is non toxic and sustainable, and are also dishwasher safe. You might prefer these over the stainless steel versions if you’re using them for hot drinks, and we think kids might be better off with them in case they do decide to have a chew!
So give plastic straws the flick and #swapthestraw. There is no alternative for this earth we call home, we need to do all we can to protect it right now, one straw at a time.