Next time you’re dining out, look at how your beverage is served. Notice something missing?
The plastic straw was first introduced into the mass market in the 1960s—perfect for slurping up shakes at your old-school soda shop! Now this quasi-cultural icon could be on the way out. In the last few decades, environmentalists have been fighting hard to get consumers to ditch the plastic straw with increasing success. Six cities across California, Florida, and Washington have banned or restricted plastic straws in restaurants. But plastic straws are so small, and aren’t they recyclable? So why the massive push to get them out of beverages?
A Dangerous Habit
It’s actually a common misconception that plastic straws are recyclable. Straws are made of polypropylene, which is generally highly recyclable—just not in straw form. At the recycling plant, straws and bottle caps are too small to be sorted, falling through the cracks on conveyor belts and ending up in landfills.
Straws seem like a small thing, but we use a lot of them. How many is a lot? The National Park Services estimates that 500 million straws are used every day in the United States, which is enough to wrap around the earth two and a half times.
While it’s bad enough that straws are filling up landfills, they are also causing significant pollution in waterways and oceans, and can seriously harm wildlife. A World Economic Report has estimated that by the year 2050, the amount of plastic in the oceans will outweigh the amount of fish. A lot of this plastic not only finds its way into the oceans but into the wildlife itself—70 percent of seabirds and 30 percent of sea turtles have plastic inside their systems.
So Why the Straw?
Plastic straws are being targeted by environmental activists because they’re an easy thing to ditch. Unless a guest needs a straw because of a medical condition, most can go without. While a restaurant may have plastic straws on hand, servers might be instructed not give them out to guests unless requested. Plus, there are tons of more eco-friendly options for people who prefer their drink with a straw, like bamboo or paper straws. And for those who want to be sipping pretty at home, there are even stainless steel reusable straws.