When having a drink, have you ever stopped to wonder if your straw is actually recyclable? It might seem harmless to use a plastic straw with your favourite cocktail or soft drink, but there's a little more to consider.
Can you be eco-friendly while using a plastic straw? Your intuition might say that because they are plastic, straws can be recycled and used again. Unfortunately, the reality is that most straws are designed for a single-use and aren’t 100% recyclable.
In the United States alone, Americans use 390 million straws every day. That adds up to more than 142 billion straws per year. If all of these straws are used only one time and aren’t recycled, then more than 390 million straws are entering our ecosystem on a daily basis!
Of course, it isn’t just humans who are experiencing the problems of plastic straws. Most of their downsides are experienced by the ocean and marine life.
More than 8 million tons of plastic goes into the ocean every year and much of that plastic is particularly harmful to marine life.
Plastic waste kills up to 1 million sea birds, 100,000 sea mammals, marine turtles and countless fish. Plastic is often mistaken for food and ingested by sea life, causing them severe harm. In fact, it is estimated that by 2060, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.
Can they be recycled?
Plastic straws are made of type 5 plastic (aka polypropylene). Type 5 plastic is normally recyclable. However, as plastic straws are so small and flexible – they often cause difficulty in large industrial-grade recycling machines.
Most recyclers won’t accept type 5 plastic but even if they do, many recyclers will export these straws to landfills, where they remain today.
Part of the reason plastic straws are disregarded so easily by recyclers is that type 5 plastic is cheap and easy to produce. It’s more cost-effective for manufacturers to use new plastic rather than taking part in the recycling process.
What’s even scarier than knowing they can’t be recycled is understanding that plastic straws don’t naturally biodegrade.
Instead, they break down into micro plastics which stay in our ecosystems forever. Scientists recently found a huge amount of micro plastic in a piece of Arctic Ocean sea ice that was deeply embedded inside an ice block. This discovery was described by these scientists like a punch to the stomach, as it showed just how deeply plastic is impacting marine life.
What can you do?
Our best advice is to refuse plastic altogether. However, it can be easier said than done. If you need to use type 5 plastics, first check with your local recycling company and see if they accept type 5 plastics.
While plastic straws still are used in many fast-food restaurants, there is an increasing amount of chains that are banning plastic straws. Starbucks, for example, is planning to stop its usage of all plastic straws by 2020.
One larger step you can take is by committing to using reusable alternatives to plastic straws or by not using straws at all.
There are many different reusable straws that are made of glass, stainless steel and even bamboo. You can use these straws at home and take them with you on the go to also cut down on straw usage when you go out to eat.
Even though the world’s plastic problems are much larger than merely plastic straws alone, plastic straws are actually the seventh most collected waste item on beaches worldwide. So although refusing plastic straws may seem insignificant, it's impact is huge.
If you stop using plastic straws, you are contributing towards a better, more sustainable planet.
For the majority of us, plastic straws don’t add any value to our lives – so why not limit your use of this single-use plastic as much as you can!
Pick the environment over convenience and #SkipTheStraw
Next time you are out, remember to tell your waitor "No straw, please".
By taking small steps together, we will achieve great things. Share your #SkipTheStraw photos with us on Instagram, @theotherstraw and tag us to be featured!
Do you have any tips on living a life with less plastic? Tell us in the comments below!