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Should Plastic Straws Be Banned?

Americans throw away millions of plastic straws every day. A lot of that plastic ends up in the oceans, and it can be very harmful to marine animals. In 2015, a video showing a turtle with a straw stuck way up its nose went viral, prompting renewed calls for cutting back on disposable plastic—especially straws. In response, more restaurantshave switched to giving out straws only when they’re requested; others have stopped offering them altogether. Cities such as Miami, Florida, and Malibu, California, have already imposed bans on plastic straws; New York City is considering doing the same. An environmentalist anda representative of the plastic industry face off about whether straw bans are a good idea.

The world is facing a crisis of single-use plastic pollution. An estimated 5 to 13 million tons of plastic waste, including straws, enter the ocean each year. This affects our ecosystems, marine life, and even the water we drink. Some studies project that by 2050, there could be more plastic by weight in the ocean than fish if we don’t take action now to turn the tide.

Plastic doesn’t biodegrade. It breaks up into smaller pieces, which means that essentially every piece of plastic ever created still exists in some form. As of 2015, only 9 percent of all the plastic waste generated over the years had been recycled. Most discarded plastic ends up in landfills or in the environment, where it absorbs toxic chemicals, enters the food chain, and harms or kills marine life.

Plastic straws are one of the top items of plastic pollution found on beaches worldwide. During International Coastal Cleanup Day in 2018, more than 640,000 plastic straws and stirrers were picked up from beaches across the globe. Made primarily from nonrenewable fossil fuels, plastic straws are also difficult to recycle. As a result, countless single-use straws often end up harming marine life, ecosystems, and our coasts.

Plastic straws should be banned because the harm they cause outweighs any benefit.

Plastic straws should be banned because the harm they cause vastly outweighs the benefit to society. There are a number of reusable and Earth-friendly options that are now replacing plastic, including bamboo, stainless steel, and glass. Single-use straws sourced from paper, pasta, and even seaweed are also viable options and can fully biodegrade in the natural environment.

Bans and regulations on consumer items that damage the environment have proven to be an effective way to reduce pollution. For example, beach cleanup data shows that after California passed a statewide plastic bag ban, significantly fewer plastic bags were found on the beaches and in the environment. A ban on plastic straws would prevent harm to wildlife, help keep our coasts clean, and protect our oceans and beaches for the future.

 

—TRENT HODGES

Plastic Pollution Manager, Surfrider Foundation

Many people think of plastic straws as a novelty convenience item—something that lets us sip our drinks on the go. So why not ban them in the name of cleaning up our oceans? But actually plastic straws have legitimate and important uses, and banning them gives a false sense of accomplishment, which is more harmful in the long run.

Straws actually have an important food-safety purpose and are necessary for people with some illnesses or disabilities. They enable these people—and those recovering from dental surgery—to drink liquids and even to eat soups that can be sipped through a straw. And for those living with long-term disabilities, straws can help them live more normal lives and be less dependent on caretakers.

Those who favor bans point to alternatives to disposable plastic straws, such as reusable plastic straws or paper or metal ones. But all of those have drawbacks. Paper is no good for sipping hot drinks. No one should walk around with a metal stick in their mouth. And all reusable straws are difficult to clean thoroughly; they can be a breeding ground for bacteria.

Plastic straws have legitimate and important uses, so we shouldn’t ban them.

The primary reason that straw bans are wrong is that they don’t address the root cause of the problem, which is litter. Marine debris is a real problem that needs a real solution. But banning plastic straws doesn’t stop people from littering or prevent plastic from blowing out of improperly managed landfills. The real solution is to invest more in recycling and properly handling our trash.

None of us want to see vast piles of plastic garbage polluting the oceans, and all of us are horrified at the idea of something as innocent as a plastic straw harming marine animals. But the answer isn’t a ban on plastic straws. Straws don’t become marine debris when they’re properly disposed of. The solution is working hard to reduce littering and increasing recycling so fewer straws end up in our oceans causing harm.

 

—SCOTT DEFIFE

V.P. of Government Affairs, Plastics Industry Association

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