Pena: Plastic straw

Rox Peña

I READ the story of a young marine biologist from Queensland, Australia on his effort to get rid of plastic straws on the Great Barrier Reef. I admire him for his advocacy. Like other types of plastic, straws enter our oceans where they create problems in the marine ecosystem. While there are laws banning plastic in many countries, they mostly zero in on plastic bags. Plastic straws are usually not given much attention.

A single piece of plastic straw may seem harmless. But if combined, they create havoc in the environment. They are used for minutes and thrown away. Sadly, they will remain in the environment for hundreds of years. In the United States alone, around 500 million straws are used every single day. These 500 million straws could fill over 127 school buses each day, or more than 46,400 school buses every year. If placed in a single line, they can circle around the Earth two and a half times.

Straws are among the most common types of trash found during beach cleanups all over the world. In the 2017 International Coastal Clean-up Report of the Ocean Conservancy group, plastic straws and stirrers are the 7th biggest item collected with a total of 409,087 pieces retrieved.

When plastic straws reach coastal bays and the ocean, wildlife may mistakenly ingest them. This harms the animal, further endangering an entire ecological community. Endangered sea turtles have been found with straws accidentally stuck up their noses, causing unnecessary pain and suffering. Plastic can also break apart into microscopic particles known as microplastics.

While alternatives do exist such as glass, stainless steel, bamboo and paper straws, an outright ban is the best solution. Straws are unnecessary. Here in the Philippines, it’s nice to know that some fast food restaurants are voluntarily implementing “strawless days”. Other cities have plastic ban ordinances that include plastic straws.

All over the world, there are moves to eliminate plastic straws. Seattle restaurants for instance will no longer provide plastic straws and plastic utensils to its patrons beginning July 1, 2018. In California, a lawmaker introduced a bill this January 2018 that would make it a crime for a waiter at a sit-down restaurant to provide a plastic straw without being asked for one first.

Only recently, Queen Elizabeth banned plastic straws and bottles from the royal estates as part of a move to cut back on the use of plastics. The new measures include gradually phasing out plastic straws in public cafes and banning them altogether in staff dining rooms. Internal caterers at Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh will now reportedly only be allowed to use china plates and glasses, or recyclable paper cups. Scotland might ban plastic straws next year. They have already banned plastic cotton buds this 2018.

Let’s do our share in eliminating the plastic straw problem.