It is no secret plastic is a problem.
Trash has been accumulating in our planet’s oceans at an accelerating rate as our global population skyrockets. Images of “trash islands” have overcome the desire of some to buy that cup of coffee from a facility that doesn’t recycle or offer an alternative to straws for cold drinks. The solution — (voila!) has been to opt for paper, bamboo or biodegradable plastic straws, or bypass the straw altogether.
Straw hating may have been the trendiest and most unexpected movement in the environmental science community this year. Many global organizations finally took action against the microplastic pollution crisis, while others have found comfort in their old ways of adding to the already saturated landfills across the country.
“What about those little umbrellas that go in drinks, why aren’t you criminalizing that?” Twitter user @KeithOsmun said.
With mounting pressure to terminate straws and mixed opinions on the best alternative, companies are scrambling to make a change–fast–to protect their image and their sales. Starbucks, who seems to have fallen into the spotlight after incorporating new recyclable sipping lids for cold drinks, continues to offer plastic straws (sometimes still as a default option) despite receiving praise for being a pioneer in the strawless movement.
Hyatt promises that “eco-friendly alternatives” will be offered for straws, but has not specified what these changes will include. However, Hilton, Marriott and American Airlines have all announced various specific changes (i.e. biodegradable replacements, paper straws, etc.) with timelines as to how and when positive environmental impacts can be expected.
Paper straws, one of the most popular solutions to plastic, are actually nowhere near new. In fact, original designs were first patented by Marvin Chester Stone in 1888. Disposable plastic straws only grew popularity-wise in the 1950s with development of polypropylene plastic, and quickly became one of the most wasteful products in the world.
We have been aware of the destructive tendencies of plastic, particularly plastic straws for a long time. But oddly enough, it was only this year that companies became active in the fight to end the production of straws.
Perhaps it was the viral video of a sea turtle having a plastic straw removed from its nose, or maybe it is the very act of these influential companies cracking down on the production of plastic that have created a greater sense of urgency amongst other companies to display the same sense of compassion and environmental awareness.
Whatever it may be, the tides have undeniably turned on our attitudes and efforts towards straws and our greater environmental impact. We are all free-floating in the mistakes of generations past and the numerous opportunities sponsored by modern science.
The straw crisis doesn’t simply divide establishments between the straw-haves and the straw-have-nots. It matters if straws are automatically added to drinks, or if customers have a say in their daily ecological footprint; it matters if straws are available to those who need them due to physical disabilities, or if they are indirectly discriminating.
It matters if these alternative solutions are actually beneficial to the environment, or if they are going to create new problems of their own.