Drinking straws

How Straws are Destroying the Environment

Guest post by Emma Metson*

In the US alone, 500 million straws are used every day. The United Nations estimates that the world population will reach 9.2 billion by 2050. The amount of waste produced will be huge if people continue to discard single-use plastic at current rates so that, by 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.

Single-use plastics are the scourge of the earth as they never fully degrade. That means they don’t biodegrade, they simply break down into smaller pieces and end up in every part of the food chain. During the degrading process, harmful chemicals and toxins are released which is bad news for the environment.

  • Most straws are made from a petroleum-based plastic called polypropylene. For straws to be made, extraction of fossil fuels is required. The production of 1000 kilograms of polypropylene releases 3,530 kilograms of CO2-equivalent greenhouse gases.
  • Polypropylene, which was thought to be BPA-free, has been found to still contain these synthetic estrogens.
  • 71% of seabirds and 30% of turtles have been found with plastics in their stomachs. When broken down into very small pieces, ‘microplastics’ become a threat to marine life including fish.
  • Straws and stirrers ranked as the 8th most likely item of rubbish to be found in the ocean.
  • Due to their small size, straws are often mistaken as food by animals — causing death and suffocation.

Although plastic straws are mostly made out of polypropylene which is something that can be recycled, they aren’t accepted by most curbside recycling programs because they’re too lightweight to make it through the mechanical recycling sorter.

What happens instead is that they drop through sorting screens and are mixed up with other materials that are too small to separate. This leads to either contamination of recycling loads or plastic straws being disposed of as garbage.

 

Plastic straws are one of the most common things you’ll see not only in the ocean but in landfills as well. Plastics release methane as they decompose in landfills. Methane is a greenhouse gas and contributes to global warming and climate change. Methane doesn’t stay in the atmosphere as long as carbon dioxide does. However, its effects on climate are more severe because of how effective it is in absorbing heat. In the first two decades after its release, methane is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

 

The road to making everyone’s lives ‘straw-free’ is far from easy. However, you can start with the following tips:

  • Compostable straws are a slightly better alternative than regular plastic drinking straws. They need to be properly decomposed of in a composting facility. Otherwise, they’re no better than their plastic counterparts.
  • Use reusable straws instead. You can get ones made of glass, stainless steel, or bamboo.
  • Educate your friends and family members about the dangerous effects that straws have on the environment. Post on. social media using the hastag #stop sucking and find more information here.
  • Start your own #stopsucking challenge to help get the word out. You can create your own URL here.

*Emma is a part-time property developer and blogger. She is passionate about home improvements; especially environmentally friendly changes that can make your home and the world a healthier place. Check out her blog, Fixtures and Flowers or follow her on Twitter

About

Nikki is an author and writer specializing in green living ideas and tips, adventure travel, upcycling, and all things eco-friendly. She's traveled the globe, swum with sharks and been bitten by a lion (fact). She lives with her husband and a very bad dog.

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