Why Is Everyone Hating On The Plastic Straw?
Once a reminder of cocktails and beaches, the plastic straw became the face of the anti-plastic movement. Customers, campaigners, and businesses came together to obliterate the plastic straw. But, what does obliterating the plastic straw mean? How does it affect our lives? And what can we learn from this global campaign?
The fate of our once-aiding friend, the plastic straw changed when a gut-wrenching video of a straw being pulled out of a sea turtle’s nose went viral.
Let’s strip to the basics.
Plastic straws are non-biodegradable and come under the category of ‘single-use’ plastics i.e. they are used once and then thrown away. They aren’t usually recycled as they’re ‘low-value’ products for recyclers. They also often slip through recycling machinery for being too small, ending up in landfills.
How bad is the problem?
It is estimated that there could be anywhere between 437 million to 8.3 billion plastic straws along the world’s coastline. While the numbers are huge, by weight, plastic straws account for only up to 0.03% of the nine million tons of plastic trash in the ocean. What’s more, a recent report in 2018 found that 46% of the ocean plastic accumulation comprised of fishing nets!
Wait, does this mean the campaign was pointless?
No. While the relative impact seems small, billions of plastic straws in the ocean is still a huge number. And more than the number itself, this has been one of the most popular environmental movements ever — there’s a lot to learn from it.
Why was this campaign successful?
First, straws are easy to give up. The campaign’s call-to-action is clear, as is evident by ‘No Straws Attached’ run by our community member, Mallika Arya. It requires doing ‘one’ thing to make a difference. Ditching the plastic straw doesn’t require anyone to completely overhaul their lifestyle, like going vegan for example would. Second, almost everyone uses straws, so it’s easy to feel a sense of achievement. Third, alternatives exist. For example, our community member Sahar Mansoor runs ‘Bare Waste Necessities’ a zero-waste brand that also sells bamboo straws.
There are also paper and steel straws being introduced in restaurants and cafes, making it more convenient to switch. In the words of Anahita Dondhy, Chef Manager at restaurant SodabottleOpenerWala, “Straws are useless, why do we use them so much?” Radhika Khandelwal, Chef, and Owner of Radish Hospitality, wants to take it to the next level in both her restaurants. She’s ordered a trial batch of biodegradable straws from Singapore that are made from potato starch. They’re five times more expensive than paper straws, but she’s all in — “Sustainability is expensive but we’re committed to making these changes.”
Fourth, the media campaigns around refusing the plastic straw are engaging, young (read: memes!), and fun. Had it just been about the data around plastic pollution, the movement wouldn’t have been so powerful. In short: the campaign lines up with every individual’s ability to give something up to make a better world.
Apply this to fishing nets and you have a different story. Fishing nets would not resonate with the average individual as the plastic straw does, but they require our attention much more. However, the biggest problems are too complex to solve by just ‘doing one thing,’ they require systemic engagement and change.
The SUSS take.
Ditch the plastic straw. It’s nasty and it’s polluting our oceans. But don’t t stop there. There are bigger issues, like that of fishing nets, that need equal if not more attention. Becoming aware and understanding the complexities of problems like plastic pollution, is a great first step. And by reading this article, you just took that step!
SUSS is a community to move the needle on sustainable fashion in India. You can learn more about us here.
This article was written by Gauri Sharma and Lavanya Garg, Co-founders at SUSS.
This article was edited on August 10, 2020.