For decades, plastic straws have been used ubiquitously throughout the entire world. From restaurants to gas stations, any business that offered its customers beverages also provided plastic straw through which to drink them. But in the last few years, these straws have begun to slowly disappear.
The primary reason for this phenomenon has been an increased public awareness of the environmental impact of plastic products. For many years, plastic products have dominated the market, as they are relatively cheap and impressively durable. But because these products are made to last, they take up to hundreds of years to degrade. Some scientists have estimated that due to the enormous amount of plastic waste being dumped in the ocean, in approximately fifty years there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.
When on land, plastic exposed to chlorine can release harmful chemicals into land and water around it, poisoning anything that drinks the water and hurting plant life. In landfills, the biodegradable plastic products release the greenhouse gas methane, known to contribute significantly to global warming.
In the water, plastic waste has built up to a shocking degree. By 2012, estimates were made that about 160 million tonnes of plastic pollution was spread throughout the world’s oceans. One study has estimated that there could be up to five trillion pieces of plastic floating at sea. This litter produces chemicals that are not only harmful to marine life, but also to humans. We eat fish that contains toxins our pollution has exposed them to, causing an increase in rates of birth defects, cancer, and immune disorders to the people that eat them.
Because of the sheer amount of damage that this plastic pollution has done to the environment across the globe, efforts are being made to reduce the amount of pollution being released. Many nations are focusing their efforts on recycling, along with developing products that are reusable or that will degrade naturally. More than half of the plastic used for medical equipment is incinerated rather than being dumped into a landfill. Furthermore, many countries are passing laws that impose taxes on behaviors they want to discourage and strict standards that plastic products need to meet.
As the public has become further aware of the serious nature of the dangers of plastic pollution, pressure on companies who make use of disposable plastic products has been building. Their customers have begun to protest the damage these products do, and as a result, hundreds of companies across the United States have begun to ban plastic straws. These companies are almost entirely members of the food service industry.
In Miami Beach, plastic straws are now banned entirely. Malibu has taken this ban a step further and banned plastic utensils and stirrers as well. Starbucks has made the decision to also ban plastic straws from their stores, removing them gradually over the next several years. McDonald’s plans to begin using paper straws as a replacement in their restaurants in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Ireland. Soon plastic straws will most likely be entirely replaced throughout the world by paper alternatives.