Did you know that in the U.S. alone about 500 million plastic straws are used every day? That’s a lot of single-use plastic!
Just how much? Well, if you were to join all 500 million of those plastic straws together, they would circle the Earth about two and a half times. Every. Single. Day. And remember, that’s just the straws consumed in the U.S.!
It wouldn’t be a big deal, perhaps, if all these straws magically disintegrated back into their natural components after their extremely short, single-use lives. But the sad fact is they stick around indefinitely—and they’re wreaking havoc on us and our planet.
Bad for us
Most plastic straws today are made from polypropylene, a petroleum-based plastic that relies on the extraction of fossil fuels for its manufacture. Even though this plastic may be BPA-free, it has been shown to leak synthetic estrogens, which are also harmful to human health.
Bad for the planet
One of the 12 Most Astonishing Things that Harm Sea Turtles, plastic straws are the fifth most commonly found litter during the annual International Coastal Cleanup. The straws’ durability, buoyancy and ability to accumulate and concentrate toxins make it especially harmful to marine life.
It’s a single-use shame.
Most straws are used only once and then tossed. And the vast majority of them aren’t recycled. In other words, they are “an example of extreme waste being generated for minimal convenience.”
How did we get here?
I guess you could say it began close to 7,000 years ago, when the ancient Mesopotamians slaked their thirst using reeds to drink water. Ancient Egyptians also used straws to filter out annoying insects that meandered into their cups. Much later in the Western hemisphere, paper straws eventually replaced rye straws and dried wheat shafts. In the early 1900s fear of contagious diseases like polio and tuberculosis led to a mistrust of shared glassware, and soda fountains began regularly offering drinking straws.
Today, fast-food restaurants have replaced washable glasses and dishware with a variety of disposable goods, including the always-available plastic straw. The plastic straw with its paper wrapper is so common these days, we usually just accept it as a necessity without even thinking twice.
Where to next?
Unless habits change, experts warn that the demand for disposable isn’t likely to decline. So more fossil fuels will need to be extracted and more electricity will need to be produced to create the plastic required for these single-use suckers—not to mention the resources needed (and pollution generated) to deliver them all over the world.
But is this really necessary?
As we know, the power of any movement begins with the efforts of just a few people. What if you and I were those few? What if, together, we decided not to use plastic straws any more? What might that look like? I believe that together we could eventually make a huge difference.