The world is dying: Can your reusable straw save it?
An army of neon orange tubes floats through the Scrounge, swirling in the thick, murky coffee that flows freely from the Dunkin’ counter. Bobbing among those tangerine cylinders, glints of metal sparkle in the fluorescent lighting, a beacon of light in a plastic world: metal straws.
But just how much of a difference are these reusable, VSCO-worthy straws making?
Every day, 500 million straws are used in the U.S., with one study estimating that there are currently 8.3 billion plastic straws scattered across the world’s beaches. These numbers are frequently contested, as the estimates came from a nonprofessional surveyor. Currently, it is estimated that there are 150 million metric tons of plastic in our marine environments, with an additional eight million being added each year.
Straws make up 0.025% of those eight million tons.
In the past few years, reusable straws have shot to the front lines in the fight against single-use plastics. Metal is just one of the ways people are firing back at the flimsy plastic tubes. Bamboo, silicone and glass straws crowd online retail shops, encouraging customers to reconsider how they sip.
Major corporations such as American Airlines, Aramark and Starbucks have jumped on the bandwagon, vouching to either reduce or completely eliminate their plastic straw use, and Newark isn’t far behind. Last June, the Newark City Council passed a motion to draft a policy stating that all restaurants should only pass out straws if directly requested by a customer.
Although the policy has not been discussed since June, many local businesses adopted similar regulations in a voluntary agreement with the local government to adopt the policy earlier on. Grain Craft Bar + Kitchen is one such restaurant that implemented this trend, leading to a 90% decrease in straw use at its three locations.
However, environmentalists have made it clear that even if straws were to be eradicated completely, the difference would be minute.
So why bother ditching the plastic drinking tubes?
Lydia Fimmano, a sophomore studying political science, regularly drinks from a reusable straw. She explained that while switching out the straw alone is not enough, if combined with other environmentally conscious decisions, it can pack a greater punch.
“I use my reusable straw with reusable cups because there’s just so much waste with the non- reusable plastics,” Fimmano says. “Any small difference is going to help, but it’s more about plastic water bottles, plastic cups, stuff like that.”
Beverage containers such as plastic water bottles and aluminum cans make up 14% of all litter, not including caps and labels, while packaging accounts for a whopping 40% of total plastic usage.
Yes, ditch the plastic straw, environmentalists say. On top of that, they suggest ditching the plastic water bottles from the POD, getting a reusable one instead. Shop local to cut down on packaging, activists advise. Bring your own reusable containers to restaurants to avoid styrofoam-laden doggie bags, they say.
Replacing straws is a good start, but it’s not enough on its own.