Plastic straws are everywhere we go. Most of us don’t give them a second thought. We order our drink and when we are done with it, we toss the straw into the garbage. Unfortunately, this seemingly innocent practice is polluting our planet. Over 500 million plastic straws are used and thrown away in the United States every single day. To put this into perspective, 500 million straws could circle around the Earth 2 ½ times.
What Happens When A Plastic Straw Is Thrown Away?
In order to understand what happens when a plastic straw is thrown away, we need to learn the difference between biodegrade and decompose.
Biodegrade means that an item is naturally broken down over time and digested by microorganisms. Once something biodegrades, it is naturally recycled into new organic molecules.
Decompose is defined as the process of something breaking down into smaller and smaller pieces. When plastic degrades, it breaks down into smaller pieces that will never actually go away – they will always be a part of our Earth.
Plastic straws do not biodegrade and they never fully decompose. It takes approximately 200 years for a plastic straw to decompose into smaller pieces. Those small pieces will forever be present in the soil, waterways and oceans.
To make this problem worse, when plastic straws decompose into smaller pieces, they release toxins and chemicals into our environment that get ingested by wildlife, absorbed into our soil, and get into our waterways. These toxins are then often ingested by humans.
So, Why Not Just Recycle Plastic Straws?
Unfortunately, most plastic straws are not recyclable. Those that are recycled often get jammed in the recycling equipment and results in doing more harm than good.
Many of the discarded plastic straws end up in the ocean where they pollute the water and kill marine life.
Plastic straws are one of the top ten items found littering our beaches. Often plastic straws end up in the ocean because of direct litter from beach goers who do not dispose of their straws correctly. Other times, the straws make their way from land to the ocean. Keep in mind that all waterways lead to the ocean. So when someone litters in a city, the straw may get swept away into a street gutter that leads to a stream that in turn leads to the ocean.
How Can You Help Reduce Plastic Straw Pollution?
The next time you are ordering a drink, make sure to say, “No plastic straw for me, please!”
There are many alternatives to plastic straws that you can have in your home and carry with you for on the go use.
Metal straws come in a variety of different materials including stainless steel, aluminum, and titanium. They are typically made from high-quality metals and you can purchase a brush for easy cleaning. Some metal straws are bendable and come with a silicone tip, such as these.
Bamboo straws are typically sourced from sustainable forests. They are lightweight and a natural and reusable alternative to plastic straws. Many contain no inks or dyes.
Paper straws are often marketed as a plastic straw alternative. However, they too are only a single use type of straw. Some on the market are sourced from renewable sources and typically decompose in 45 to 90 days. They are widely available, but they are not always biodegradable. Some are dye free and FSC certified. Make sure to read about the sourcing and types of dyes used before purchasing a paper straw option.
Glass Straws are reusable and a durable alternative to plastic straws. Some glass straws come with a silicone tip. Glass straws can typically be washed in the dishwasher but handwashing with a brush works, too. Many glass straws come with a set of brushes for easy clean up. People often prefer glass over other materials because you can easily see through them to ensure they have been properly cleaned.
Don't Forget Your Reusable Straw Carrying Case
Reusable straw carrying cases come in a variety of shapes, sizes, colors, and designs. Some have separate compartments that hold more than one straw. Most pouches are machine washable, eco-friendly, and easily fit into standard sized purses or bags.
Plastic Straws In The News
The United Kingdom recently announced plans to ban the sale of plastic straws and plastic stirrers in order to help combat the world’s plastic pollution problem.
Starbucks recently announced they will be banning plastic straws in all of their stores by the year 2020.
There are many different plastic straw campaigns that you can sign up for and take a pledge to stop using plastic straws. Get your friends and family involved to help make a big impact.
Olivia and Carter Ries were only 14 and 16 years old they created the global OneLessStraw Pledge Campaign in an effort to educate others on the problems associated with plastic straws and as a way for each of us to get involved in helping our planet. You can take the pledge and learn more about Olivia and Carter here.
Learn More About Plastic Straw Pollution Facts and Plastic Straw Alternatives
Visit OneLessStraw.org to learn more about planet protector crusaders Olivia and Carter Reis and the problems associated with plastic straws.
Here you will find an informative article regarding the environmental impact of plastic straws, including facts and statistics.
Here is a great USAToday article discussing the problems with plastic straws and many plastic straw alternatives.
This article discusses in depth the different types of plastic straw alternatives and how the reusable straws differ.