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The Plastic Straw - Humble BUT Harmful

What do you get when you order a cold drink?

The ordinary single use plastic drinking straw, inevitably.  You put your lips to it without even noticing it, use it for about twenty minutes and discard it - without a thought for where it will land!

An unfortunate Costa Rican sea turtle was found with one blocking its airways!

How can one innocent inconspicuous plastic stick do so much lasting damage? This single use plastic tube has the shortest lifespan but remains on earth forever.

It is estimated that the US uses 500 million plastic straws a day and these number of straws if connected could go around the circumference of the earth two and half times!


But before we go into the problem of the plastic straw, let’s see how we came to its prolific use in the first place.

The Origin of the Humble Plastic Straw

The first straw could well be the reeds used by the Mesopotamians to drink water and the Chinese to drink wine, 7000 years ago. The Egyptians used straws as a filtering mechanism to avoid drinking in insects. In the west, the practice of using straws began in 1888 and its use gained pace due to the fear of the spread of contagious diseases such as polio and tuberculosis from contaminated glassware.

In mid 20th century, though the spread of disease became less of a concern, the introduction of fast food such as McDonald brought with it disposable food packaging and more straws.  In the 1960s a major innovation took place when plastics began replacing paper and straws became oil-based single use items.

Today, straws are so much a part of our everyday life that we drink using them by default and without a second thought.

The Problem with Plastic Straws

Aside from ending in a sea animal’s unlikely body parts, this thin plastic tube which is made from polypropylene and polystyrene DOES NOT biodegrade EVER.

  • Every piece of plastic remains eternally in our environment .The very nature of its chemical composition makes it impossible to biodegrade. At most, it might photo degrade into tiny pieces which are then very easily ingested by marine animals and to us through the food chain.
  • If recycled, only a small percentage goes through the process and only once, after which it lands in the landfill and the ocean.
  • If incinerated, it releases toxic dioxins into the air which settles into our crops and through the food chain bioaccumulate into humans and animals.

The Solution.....

It is easy to pass the buck - consumers blame businesses, businesses put the onus on the demands of the consumers - and we all quietly carry on with our ingrained harmful habits. Both businesses and individuals need to change their attitude and behaviour.

We are seeing more and more calls to reduce the use of plastic straws in campaigns such as ‘The Last Straw’ and ‘Refuse the straw’

In fact, some restaurants and pub chains in the UK have taken action on this.

Bar One  Currently all 56 Bar One outlets serve 4.7 million straws a year. The chain will stop offering them with many drinks and through its campaign ‘strawsuck’ it is urging other pubs to stop offering straws. Other two food outlets, Harvester and Brown, also from the Whole Mitchell& Butler group, could follow suit.

Wetherspoon has stopped serving straws in drinks and from 2018 the pub chain will use only biodegradable paper straws. The pub chain announcement came in the wake of the growing pace of the campaign ‘Refuse the Straw’ which aims to stop pub chains and restaurants handing out the plastic straws.

What can consumers and businesses?

  • Consumers - ASK FOR NO STRAW when ordering a drink. Do we use a straw at home? NO!
  • Businesses - SERVE STRAWS UPON REQUEST – put a notice on your ordering counter, as part of the menu card "Straws served upon request                                                                              This practice has shown that about 50 to 90 percent of patrons will not ask for a straw.
  • SAVINGS for businesses and for the community in waste hauling, landfill and most importantly removing a useless single use plastic item from the environment.
  • SWITCH TO ALTERNATIVES such as glass and stainless steel straws. Keep one in your carry bag and you are never without one.
  • Use eco-friendly options such as BIODEGRADABLE, paper and bamboo straws.






Previous article Element UK and Trees for the Future - Advocates for a Reduction in the Global Carbon Footprint
Next article Landfills and Methane Gas – Any Upside?

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