Student Report: Straw Wars: The Last Plastic Straw?

straw in drink

In a galaxy not so far away, a ragtag band of earth-loving rebels is striking back against the forces of pollution and capitalism. What is their noble mission: to ban the evil forces that stem from plastic materials. Environmental zealots have already launched an all-out assault against plastic bags, and now they have set their sights on the perilous plastic straw!

The first “victory” in their battle against plastic straws has occurred in the barren liberal wasteland known as Seattle. In July, the Emerald City became the first municipality in the United States to outright ban plastic straws from eating and drinking establishments. Since all dining establishments can no longer offer customers a simple plastic straw, residents in Seattle must now use “alternative” straws such as those made from paper or pasta.

However, some members of the food industry are not going down without a fight. As the lines in the sand are drawn between common sense consumers and out-of-touch conservationists, the real impact of plastic straws on the environment becomes muddied. Is this crusade against plastic straws a noble and necessary cause?

Extreme environmentalists try to defend their war against plastic straws by claiming that Americans overuse these handy instruments at a resounding rate: 500 million per day. These green activists neglect to mention that this study was composed by a nine year old child (yes, a nine year old)! Furthermore, Ian Calderon, Democratic Majority Leader of California’s State Assembly brilliantly adds that waiters who offer unwanted plastic straws should serve jail time. Yikes, attention all serving staff in California: Make sure you never commit the high crime of doling out an unwanted plastic straw to an unsuspecting patron.

The plastic straw war is being waged in multiple theatres: California, Hawaii, and New York are considering statewide bans. Several cities are also battlegrounds for the coming onslaught against plastic utensils. Unsurprisingly, most of these campaigns are being waged by members of the Democratic Party.

Yet Democrats fail to realize (or simply don’t care to acknowledge) that many groups will suffer from a plastic straw ban, most notably small businesses. Replacements for plastic straws such as paper and metal alternatives would cripple smaller enterprises because they are more expensive. The local restaurant, already at an economic disadvantage against many large franchise restaurants, could be smacked with straws that cost up to five times more than plastic.

Moreover, plastic straws have added utility for the handicapped. Plastic straws make for optimal utensils for those with disabilities due to their low price and accessibility. Penny Pepper, a disabled environmentalist, states that alternatives to plastic straws simply aren’t safe for consumption by the handicapped community.

The consumer at large would also be unduly harmed if the straw ban is implemented across the nation. Each prototype for a plastic straw substitute has yet to wow the public. Metal and glass are hard on the teeth. Paper straws can cause allergic reactions and do not hold up well in hot liquids. Ironically, the production of paper straws also contributes to air pollution.

Besides the people that will be hurt by this ban, the actual effectiveness of plastic straw alternatives is unproven. Plastic straws and stirrers combine for only 3 percent of the total trash found on beaches. When taken into account by mass, plastic straws make up just .03 percent of all plastic waste on global beaches.

Upon closer examination, evidence shows that the United States barely contributes to plastic pollution compared to the rest of the global community. The United States, the third most populous nation in the world, ranks 20th in oceanic plastic pollution. The top five countries on the list: China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Sri Lanka, account for 60 percent of the plastic waste in our oceans today, respectively.

If banning plastic straws is a losing battle, what can realistically be done to improve the current situation, particularly with the massive amount of plastic in the oceans? How about eliminating the huge amount of fishing-related plastic in our oceans? These needless waste byproducts currently make up a high percentage of the total oceanic plastic. Nets, traps, and equipment from fishing vessels should not be deposited into the ocean, and the companies that disobey this simple edict ought to be held accountable. A system for accountability has already been proposed.

Americans should take advantage of the country’s groundbreaking recycling operations instead of relying on government social engineering to solve the plastic waste crisis. As of now, only 14 percent of plastic packaging is recycled, and reused plastic poses no harm to marine life. And given the government’s track record of banning “illicit substances,” it probably won’t make of a difference anyways. Surely, a thriving black market for plastic straws will emerge because consumer demand always triumphs over government bans.

The anti-plastic revolutionaries in Seattle might be well-intentioned. However, reducing environmental concerns and maintaining economic success by banning plastic straws is about as far-fetched as a world of Death Stars and lightsabers.

PHOTO: Straw in drink. Photo by Kamil Kaczor. Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Liam Sigler is a student commentator at Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia.

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