I:MComment

Plastic Ain't Fantastic - The Final Straw

I:MComment
Plastic Ain't Fantastic - The Final Straw

When you get handed your double vodka lemonade with two straws and a stirrer on a night out, it is easy to forget about the consequences of the plastic once the music has died down and you’re tucked up safely in bed. The trouble is, single-use plastic doesn’t go away easily, and despite how readily available it is, more thought needs to be put into the amount of plastic that is used and abused.

Despite you not remembering that below average night out in Bunker/Analog/Gravity (?), that plastic straw from your drink will live on. It will still probably be around when you’re long gone, as straws are made from plastics such as polypropylene, which takes hundreds of years to decompose. Every plastic straw that was ever made still exists in some form, and polypropylene is thought to be responsible for 20-30% of the total volume of disposed solid waste (Longo, Savaris, Zeni, Brandalise & Grisa, 2011). In addition, plastic ends up in our oceans, causing an endless amount of damage to sea life populations - killing those who ingest it and releasing toxic chemicals into the foodchain. Eriksen et al., (2014) have estimated there are over 5 trillion pieces of plastic in our oceans. There could be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050 (WEF, 2016), a well-known figure, but one I feel still holds so much power.

It is estimated that Americans use 500 millions plastic straws every day. We seem to have build a culture upon handing out straws at any available moment. It’s hard to understand why plastic straw use has boomed during the last century. There are supposed ‘benefits’ to using straws, in terms of protecting teeth from sugar (Grobler, Jenkins, Kotze, 1985) but why has this led to such overuse? Having a straw can seem like a novelty, reminiscent of being a child at a party, and of course straws help drinks go down quicker, but there seems to be no justifiable reason as to why we use straws so much.

Recently, Wetherspoons has proposed a ban on plastic straws, which will be implemented by the end of this year. The campaign ‘Refuse the Straw’ has sparked interest in pubs and restaurants around the country, and the pressure to act upon unnecessary plastic use appears to be mounting. Campaigns like this are brilliant, as they hit the headline news and make people questions things they tend to accept as normal. There have been further pushes to reduce straw use, Mark Hall, the spokesperson for a Waste Management company, has proposed a 5p charge for straw use -  influenced by the success of the 5p plastic bag campaign, which dropped plastic bag use by 85%.

How can we help? Ask for no straws at restaurants or bring your own stainless steel or glass straw - let restaurants and pubs know that straws are unnecessary the majority of the time. Websites like http://www.plasticpollutioncoalition.org/no-straw-please/ are really useful in providing ideas as to how plastic use can be reduced.

And if nothing else convinces you, let me leave you with this final push for support - plastic makes David Attenborough sad. Britain’s national treasure himself has called for action on plastic, after seeing the devastating effects it has on our oceans whilst filming for Blue Planet II. So next time you go out for a drink, spare a thought for Dave and ditch the straws.  


EMILY MEDCALF

References

Eriksen, M., Lebreton, L. C., Carson, H. S., Thiel, M., Moore, C. J., Borerro, J. C., ... & Reisser, J. (2014). Plastic pollution in the world's oceans: more than 5 trillion plastic pieces weighing over 250,000 tons afloat at sea. PloS one, 9(12), e111913.

Grobler, S. R., Jenkins, G. N., & Kotze, D. (1985). The effects of the composition and method of drinking of soft drinks on plaque pH. British dental journal, 158(8), 293-296.

Hall, M. (2017, May 22). Straw in your drink? That'll be 5p please. Plastic straw tax is coming. Retrieved from: https://www.businesswaste.co.uk/straw-drink-thatll-5p-please-plastic-straw-tax-coming/

Longo, C., Savaris, M., Zeni, M., Brandalise, R. N., & Grisa, A. M. C. (2011). Degradation study of polypropylene (PP) and bioriented polypropylene (BOPP) in the environment. Materials Research, 14(4), 442-448.

Neufeld, L., Stassen, F., Sheppard, R., & Gilman, T. (2016). The new plastics economy: rethinking the future of plastics. In World Economic Forum.

photo: national geographic