These things really suck: The argument against plastic straws

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These things really suck: The argument against plastic straws

Hannah Yick and Danica Yeh

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Recent debate over the use of plastic straws has caused an upstir about whether the environmentally driven movement to ban them is worth the cost of convenience. How much harm can a few plastic straws do? Why not just recycle them? Will a ban in one city truly induce any change? What many people fail to acknowledge is that with the cheapness and the efficiency of plastic straws comes deterioration, devastation and plague that ensures immeasurable wildlife destruction.

We are conditioned not to notice plastic straws. They’re harmless. They come in our iced waters when we go out to eat. They sit innocently in giant, green bundles for you to grab on your way out of Starbucks. The big, fat ones are essential to the boba experience. Sometimes they come in fun colors. Maybe they’re bendy straws. Or, even better, curly straws. At this point, it’s routine: We take them, we use them, and we throw them away. The significance of a single plastic straw in our lives lasts mere minutes. But for a sea turtle in the Pacific Ocean, that straw may cost its life.

One famous example of the evils of plastic straw use — and plastic use in general — is the Great Pacific garbage patch (sometimes more affectionately dubbed as Trash Island). This garbage patch, which is nearly double the size of Texas, is a collection of mostly plastic waste that sits in the Pacific Ocean.

It’s no surprise that 79,000 tons of plastic comprised this garbage patch as of March. We use plastic for everything — it’s hard to imagine life without it. It’s cheap, durable and flexible, thus making it an ideal material for various industrial manufacturing purposes as a replacement for more fragile materials such as glass.

Plastic takes an extremely long time to break down, and many types cannot be recycled. Because of this, its unrelenting popularity in manufacturing can mean a lot of trouble for our ecosystems.

Marine ecosystems, in particular, are in a lot of danger stemming from our obsession with plastic. Plastic waste that makes its way into the ocean can completely disrupt an animal’s way of life. Many plastics, especially smaller ones, are mistaken for food, and a lot of animals can get stuck or choke on them. Birds eat small pieces and eventually die of starvation since they can’t digest the plastic. Sea turtles get caught and suffocated by six-pack rings. The list goes on.

This seems like old news. We’ve been taught about the importance of recycling and the consequences of littering since our elementary school days. Pali’s campus is dotted with big blue recycling bins. Clearly, we know what to do. But, these efforts haven’t seemed to be enough — until now.

Cities across the nation have been taking measures to phase out single-use plastics. Seattle, for example, banned all plastic utensils from businesses earlier this year. Students at Pali, in particular, are increasingly voicing their distaste for single-use plastics. For example, the Palisades Youth and Government (Y&G) branch recently wrote a bill to tax plastic straws.

“The goal was for restaurants to stop giving out plastic straws without customers asking for them, and to encourage customers to think more about whether or not they really needed a straw,” explained senior Max Katzman, who was a major part of the writing process. The bill was passed by the Assembly and Senate, signed by the Youth Governor and put in place. Although  this ‘bill’ won’t apply to the real world, it serves as a clear sign of student support for the cause.

“People shouldn’t be using a synthetic material that is so terrible for the environment,” said senior Coco Nakano, Y&G member and active supporter of the anti-straw movement. Citing known alternatives such as paper and reusable straws, Nakano says that “the fact that we think we have a right to keep using plastic… is just unhealthy.”

So, why are we just beginning to combat this issue now? Why are widespread corporations such Starbucks yearning to phase out these tubes of destruction by 2020? Take a look at plastic bags. It wasn’t until 2016 that California placed a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags via Proposition 67, and created what AP Environmental Science teacher Steve Engelmann characterized as a mainstream movement to use reusable shopping bags. “When I forget mine, I feel a little guilt,” Engelmann said. With global temperatures continuing to rise at alarming rates, environmentalists lust after ways to bring our degrading habits to a halt.

“I think the vast majority of people don’t think about it. There is no hesitation,” he said.

In today’s society, epitomized by materialistic values and the glorification of convenience, it seems we have evolved into believing that we are entitled to obliterate every resource that our planet offers us. Yes, we are efficient. Yes, we earn profit. Yes, we currently have the world’s highest GDP. But at what cost? And what impact will this potential ban on plastic straws truly serve?

It is difficult to presume that a regulation on such a miniscule object may conceivably have a profound influence on our environment. However, small steps like these are often necessary for a big change.

“It takes time to transition,” Engelmann stated. “Everything needs to go through that evolution. I wish it would go faster, but sometimes you need that regulation.”

Everything starts with little steps. A call to action sparks a response. A response spurs desire. Desire ignites force. Force induces change. What remains, however, is a mindset of utter significance — the mindset that nothing changes overnight. But something small—maybe even something that is tiny, six-inches long and sitting in your Caramel Cocoa Cluster Frappuccino—retains the capacity to alter your perception on whether your convenience is worth the consequence.

People who are fighting against plastic straws really aren’t asking for much. There are so many alternatives on the market, from biodegradable paper straws to reusable aluminum straws. They even have metal boba straws so that you don’t have to sacrifice your weekly Volcano Tea run. If you think about it, straws in general aren’t even necessary for most people — it’s faster, yes, and more convenient, but is that worth the repercussions? In a society that is constantly prioritizing speed and short-term amenities, it’s easy to focus only on urgent issues like I need to get this iced coffee in my system before my head explodes. But if we begin to look at the bigger picture, it’s not hard to realize that maybe you don’t need a green, plastic murder tube to do so.

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