The big deal about tiny straws

Published 6:01 am Monday, April 9, 2018

Going Green in the Bluegrass
Plastic: It’s everywhere and it’s never going away when you throw it away.
Plastic is so convenient and cheap that it is basically everywhere we look. You can probably spot dozens or even hundreds of things made of plastic around you right now.
Let’s look at just one small piece of everyday plastic — one so small that you might not think that it’s a big deal: the straw.
Straws are everywhere and it’s incredibly hard to avoid them. It might not seem like a big deal to use a tiny plastic straw, and that’s part of the problem. Sometimes it’s down right unavoidable even when you are on high alert for them.
I’ve always been trying to “green my routine” for as long as I can remember,  but the thing that finally got me saying “no” to plastic straws was a video of a sea turtle with a straw stuck up its nose. It’s been all over the internet since 2015. Here is the link — — in case you haven’t seen it. I will warn you it is graphic and it is really hard to watch, but I think it really puts things in perspective.
This turtle is in the ocean minding its own business and it gets a straw stuck up its nose that creates a big problem. What did we gain by creating this problem? A tiny moment of convenient drinking. Someone used this straw for a very short amount of time, and then threw it away.
When we throw things away, humans don’t naturally consider what will happen to the trash after it’s out of sight. We are so good at “out of sight, out of mind,” that these consequences don’t even occur to us. There is no way we can always ponder every possible outcome when we throw something away. But now that you know your straw might end up in the ocean and could even end up in a turtle’s nose, is it worth it? For me it isn’t.
I’ve been so glad to see many people taking up the cause. Lately, I’ve been seeing the hashtag #stopsucking being used on socialmedia. I know I’m a late to the party on this one, but I like that there is a hashtag to go along with the movement and I think it’s super clever. Last March, some celebrities got together and made a PSA about not using plastic straws. You can see their video here: I think it’s an interesting way to get the point across, and Neil Degrasse Tyson is in it, which makes it even better.
Companies are taking note of what’s going on with social media and the movement. On March 28, McDonald’s UK News — the official news and updates outlet from the McDonald’s UK Communications team — tweeted, “We’re pleased to announce that from May we’ll be trialing paper straws in restaurants and moving our recyclable plastic straws behind the counter.”
First off, it’s awesome that McDonald’s is trying this switch to paper straws. Paper straws have been around since 1888 and will biodegrade naturally. Obviously if you use no straw at all, that is even better and you are saving trees, but I think paper is better than plastic in this case.
McDonald’s UK News also called their plastic straws “recyclable” in the tweet, which is something worth addressing. Obviously, I don’t live in the UK and so I’m not up-to-date on their recycling policy, but at least in the U.S., these straws are sometimes called “recyclable” because they are made of No. 2 and No. 5 plastics.
Those numbers are recyclable depending on where you live. However, when it comes to recycling, it’s not only the number that matters; it’s also the kind of item it is. While you can recycle No. 2 containers, you cannot recycle a No. 2 straw. I think it’s misleading to say the plastic straws are recyclable because I think it’s rare.
I am glad that corporations are starting to change their policies. I really believe that it’s because people are telling them what’s important to them and they are listening. Please keep telling the corporations about the environmental things that are important to you because your voice really can have an impact.
Amanda’s Animal Fact of the Week
Twenty-three of the 35 types of salamanders in Kentucky are lungless. Instead of having lungs to breathe, these salamanders respirate through their skin.

Email newsletter signup

About Amanda Wheeler

Amanda Wheeler is the children and teen services librarian at the Lincoln County Public Library. She has a master's in zoology education from the University of Miami and has taught as an educator at the Cincinnati Zoo.

email author More by Amanda