Why #SkipTheStraw Matters

Revee Needham, Maroon-News Staff

You may have noticed a sign at Hamilton’s favorite bakery, Flour & Salt, encouraging you to skip the straw. You may have also seen heart wrenching videos of turtles with plastic straws up their noses. But does such a small item really matter? If you do care, is it even possible to swear off this everyday staple?

The average American uses two straws per day. You might react thinking that you use nowhere near two straws a day or you may think that is such a small number to matter. Think of all the places you regularly encounter a straw in Hamilton: the Coop C-store, Frank Dining Hall, the Hieber Café, Dunkin Donuts, Subway, La Iguana, Hamilton Movie Theater, your sorority or fraternity, the Jug, the Hourglass… I could go on. But my point is clear; straws are everywhere, even in a town as small as ours. Straws are the sixth most commonly littered piece of waste and are one of the top 10 most common debris in the ocean.

While straws have been around for thousands of years, the straw’s composition has changed from plant-based materials to polypropylene, created from petroleum. Current straws are designed to be single-use and disposable, often packaged individually in a  plastic or paper wrapping. Demand for plastics, found in almost every product in your daily life, has increased our demand for fossil fuel production. This fossil fuel addiction has led us to increase the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, contributing to climate change with effects felt throughout the globe. While plastic straws are not the only demand for fossil fuels, they are unnecessary and can easily be reduced and refused. 

After sipping on that straw for the 10 minutes or so it takes you to finish your drink, you’re left with a dilemma of how to dispose of it. While you may try to recycle the plastic straw, that seemingly good deed will get you nowhere. Straws are often made with a variety of different plastics and are too small to make them usable by recycling centers. So they end up in the landfill here in Madison County. Should you still worry about the infamous turtle far off in the ocean? Actually, you should! The ocean is littered with plastic which travels from the inland through the waterways. Once in the ocean, that plastic straw will stick around for up to 200 years, before degrading into micro-pieces of plastic. Those microplastics then end up in the fish that we eat and the water that we drink, with 94 percent of U.S. tap water testing positive for plastic. In our bodies, those plastics can cause side effects ranging from nausea and asthma to endocrine disruption. 

So, now what? You decide to swear off straws, but how can you make that dream, a reality? In my experience and according to numerous websites, the first step is refusing any straws to begin with. Order an iced coffee at Flour & Salt? Skip the lid and straw (two-for-one!). At the Hieber Café? Offer your own reusable cup for a discount. Enjoying drinks at the Glass? Ask for your vodka cranberry without a straw. Heading to Suzi’s the next morning? Request no straw with your large ice water. If you aren’t ready to part with the familiarity of a straw, there are many reusable straws made from glass, stainless steel, and bamboo, available online or in stores for you to purchase. You may think the employees at Dunkin’ are giving you a funny look when you say, “no straw please,” but trust me, you’re not alone.

Contact Revee Needham at [email protected].