The fight over banning single-use plastic straws has become the latest sticking point in the culture war between liberals and conservatives, with left-wing activists passing laws to ban plastic straws and conservatives mocking them for it, flashing pictures of themselves sipping drinks through the plastic utensil in cities that have banned the product to “own the libs.”
The Trump campaign has even started selling packs of plastic straws. Supporters can buy the “Trump Straw” for $1.50 apiece. The product has become wildly popular among fans, with the campaign reporting nearly half a million dollars in sales.
Young activists especially love poking fun at liberals who want to ban plastic straws to curb plastic pollution. The Young America’s Foundation debuted its latest batch of “YAF swag” to students at its annual National Conservative Student Conference in Washington, D.C., earlier this month, featuring a plastic straw that reads, “YAF: Come and take it.”
I get it. Paper straws suck. As a waiter in Washington, D.C., which has banned plastic straws, I hate them. My guests hate them, especially if they are from out of town, which is often. When I hand a customer a paper straw, they frown and complain, and they get upset when I tell them we are no longer able to offer plastic straws. But most of the time, as consistent with my restaurant’s new waiting procedure, I serve the drinks without any kind of straw at all, and rarely do guests even ask for one. They’re almost always fine without it.
Plastic pollution is a problem, and the single-use plastic straw has become a symbol of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans. While people dispute — and for good reason — the exact numbers on plastic pollution dumped into the ocean, the most cited study on the topic, published in 2015, shows approximately 8 million metric tons of plastic are landing in the world’s oceans each year as of 2010. The authors of the study say it will be 17.5 million metric tons by 2025.
Straws, while they may seem small and harmless, comprising only 0.025% of the 8 million metric tons of plastic wasting away in the world’s waters, are still part of the problem, lining shores and beaches and ending up in the digestive systems of wild animals — when straws are not even necessary in the first place.
Many news outlets have reported that Americans use an estimated 500 million straws daily. Many have criticized that estimate as unreliable, pointing to the fact that a 9-year-old boy created it seven years ago. Other private firms, however, have since conducted their own research to show Americans still use between 170 and 390 million every day.
Whether it’s 170 million or 500 million, it’s important not to lose sight of the bigger picture. The world has a plastics problem, and plastic straws are unnecessary tools contributing to that problem. A lightweight tube used for sipping one’s favorite drinks, they are discarded after a single use and often never make it to the recycling bin. Their shapes are long and slender, making these items some of the worst ocean polluters because they get confused as food for fish and entangle wildlife.
Here is a video of scientists pulling a straw out of a sea turtle that went viral in 2015:
Is sipping Coca-Cola through a plastic straw to “own the libs” really worth causing so much pain to an innocent animal?
The fact is, no one needs a straw in the first place. Do people really require straws to consume beverages? Do college kids go to campus parties and put straws in their red Solo cups? Do neighbors hand out straws at dinner parties?
Some might point to the fact that straws are useful devices for drinks on the go, typically for drinks from fast-food drive-throughs. But several companies such as Starbucks have come up with a simple solution to the problem, modifying beverage lids to accommodate the consumer without needing a straw.
Should municipalities really make it a crime to serve plastic straws? No. But do we really need straws at all? Also, no.