The No-Straw Hypocrisy

Hello wonderful human beings, how is you year going so far? January is almost over! I have been really good, especially in the past couple of days, I have had good mental health days and today I am extra happy for no reason at all. Anyhow, I absolutely forgot to post last week. Brandon and I have been working on our immigration paper work and my mind has been focused on that but here is my new post! What are your guys opinion on plastic straws?

During the summer I was visiting my family and wanting to make it special, my parents took my siblings and I out to have dinner at Applebee’s. We weren’t given straws; most restaurants don’t give you one anymore unless you ask for it. I have never been the kind of person to ask for one if not given one, but then again, I have never been the kind of person to reject one when offered. So, when my mom asked for one, my ten-year-old sister sighed in disappointment before giving all of us a speech about turtles and the environment. Truth be told, I see the rejection of straws as a trend that makes us all look like we care about the environment when we care more about our appearance.  

            In the summer of 2017, my family took a trip to Cancun, Mexico. The activity I was most excited about was swimming with the turtles. After doing so, we ate at a restaurant that was dedicated to protecting them. Of course, they told us straws were not allowed because they hurt the environment. I didn’t question them; they are the experts, but we were given single use plastic cups and silverware–would it be called plasticware? It makes me wonder how much we actually know about the impact of plastic. I know someone (aka my ten-year-old sister) that will fight you over not using plastic straws, while holding a single use plastic water bottle; she doesn’t see the relationship between plastic and environmental crisis, she only sees straws affecting sea turtles. 

            There was a video at the beginning of 2018 about a turtle that got a straw stuck on its nostril. The video was published by National Geographic, and it is part of a series of videos and articles they have made with the purpose of raising awareness about the environmental crisis. Natalee Dawn, writer at the “Odyssey” online magazine, wrote the article Are Plastic Straws Really Killing Sea Turtles? where she talks about how that viral video is the number one reason why the No-Straw Movement became viral. However, she also mentions how turtles are not the animal that is most affected by single use plastic ending up on the ocean. 

1 million or more seabirds die every year from ingesting plastic straws and choking on them. In research from recent scientific studies, 80-90% of seabirds have some kind of plastic inside of their stomachs. Also, the ecological footprint that plastic straws alone leave on the planet is actually pretty small compared to food waste or fossil fuels. (Dawn, “The Odyssey Online”).

Rejecting one straw doesn’t create enough of an overall impact compared to other single use plastics that are ending up on the ocean. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t stop the use of straws, since they are a commodity there is no need to continue using a piece of plastic that cannot be recycled and is rarely ever reused. 

            I am by no means saying that rejecting straws doesn’t have an impact in the great scheme of things, because it does. However, the reasoning behind our actions is as important as the action itself. According to a study conducted by Yale University, only 21.4% of the American population recycles in an effective way. This doesn’t mean that Americans aren’t recycling, but rather that they are uninformed about the right way to do it and what items can and cannot be recycled.

            As of 2017, paper and paperboard constitute 25% of waste, while plastic is only 13.2% (EPA, 2019). So, why do we care more about plastic straws when they are not the number one waste produced in America? We all like to think that saving the sea turtles makes us an environmental hero, but the crisis is bigger than how we drink pop. Yes, it sounds terrifying to see a turtle with a straw on its nostril, but isn’t it more terrifying to know we are running out of drinkable water and breathable air? According to the “Conserve Energy Future” website, “water is becoming an economic and political issue as the human population fights for this resource.” It sounds a little utilitarian and a whole lot speciesism, but one turtle does not matter when the whole world is in crisis. 

            Last semester I was watching T.V. when my former roommate asked me how I shower. At first, I was confused, but she told me about a project she had to make for her environmental ethics class, where she had to choose one behavior to change during the entire semester to help the environment. Her first idea was shorter showers, but after trying it a couple of times she realized she liked her warm, steamy showers too much to give it up. Instead, she went vegan. The day she decided to go vegan, she emptied our fridge and threw away all the animal products she had at the moment. She tried to explain, several times, how meat consumption and the livestock industry are ruining the environment, so she decided to waste the food she already owned and spend crazy money on fancy vegan meat replacements. 

            I asked her what the purpose of throwing everything away was, and she told it was just for homework. Similarly, when I asked my little sister what the purpose of not using plastic straws is, she replied “turtles, obviously!” Both of them had good intentions but didn’t truly understand the bigger picture; the actions and behaviors that truly create an impact are the hardest to change. One straw might not create enough of an impact, but have you considered giving up all plastic? Or maybe you only give up plastic straws but also become more conscious about turning the lights off when they aren’t being used?

I consider the real impact to come from reusing and repurposing, instead of completely eliminating. The Oxford dictionary defines waste as “material that is eliminated or discarded as no longer useful or required after the completion of a process.” If we reuse and recycle material that we would consider to be waste, like plastic, then it seizes to be waste and is prevented from further contaminating the environment.  

If Instagram wasn’t talking about plastic straws, would you still be rejecting them? The purpose behind your actions is as important as the action itself. Are you informed about the environmental crisis? Are you aware of the impact that rejecting or using straws has? How many turtles are actually affected by straws? While eliminating the use of plastic straws can improve the plastic waste production, it is not enough to create a meaningful impact in the environment. We can’t save the planet if all we are doing is trying to look trendy. 

Dawn, Natalee. “Are Plastic Straws Really Killing Sea Turtles?” The Odyssey Online, The Odyssey Online, 15 Oct. 2019, https://www.theodysseyonline.com/plastic-straws-killing-sea-turtles.Lee, 

Jane J. “How Did Sea Turtle Get a Straw Up Its Nose?” National Geographic, 5 June 2018, https://www.nationalgeographic.com.au/animals/how-did-sea-turtle-get-a-straw-up-its-nose.aspx.

“National Overview: Facts and Figures on Materials, Wastes and Recycling.” EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, 8 Nov. 2019, https://www.epa.gov/facts-and-figures-about-materials-waste-and-recycling/national-overview-facts-and-figures-materials.

“RECYCLING FACTS.” Recycle Across America, https://www.recycleacrossamerica.org/recycling-facts.Rinkesh, Rinkesh. 

“15 Environmental Problems That Our World Is Facing Today.” Conserve Energy Future, 25 Dec. 2016, https://www.conserve-energy-future.com/15-current-environmental-problems.php.

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