Opinion | The truth about plastic straws

plastic straws
Zach Davis
Opinions Editor
@zachmdavis

Giving up straws is great – but it’s not enough.

This past year, the trend of trading plastic, single-use straws for metal straws, paper straws or simply no straws at all has taken off. Particularly in California, but throughout the rest of the world, companies and consumers are ditching the pollutant-causing straws in favor of more ecologically friendly alternatives. That’s amazing.

But it’s simply not enough and so many people think they’re doing their share by not using straws – that’s just not the case.

I don’t want to discredit and discourage those who are giving up straws – it’s a worthy gesture that no doubt has a positive impact on the environment. My concern is that people will think that small change is enough to make a difference.

This type of activism – supporting a political or social cause with little effort – is known as slacktivism and it’s a genuine problem. People develop the attitude that reducing their usage of straws is enough to combat climate change and feel unmotivated to contribute any further. They’re slacking in their activism – hence the term.

I’m hoping everyone got the opportunity to watch the incredible speech that Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old environmental activist from Sweden, gave to the United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York City on Monday, Sept. 23. If you haven’t, I highly encourage you to do so. It’s passionate, moving, factual and tackles the issue that our entire globe is facing. Watching that speech filled me with a desire to create change myself. I want that feeling to last and it’s important that we don’t let Greta down. It’s important that, in addition to lobbying for comprehensive legislation addressing climate change, we change our personal behaviors to adopt a more ecologically sustainable lifestyle.

The argument that plastic straws contribute to ocean pollution is true – to some extent. Bloomberg News estimates that only 0.03 percent of total plastic waste, by mass, is due to plastic straws. On the contrary, another study found that up to 46 percent of ocean pollution is a result of the fishing industry. This being said, if you genuinely want to have a lasting impact on the environment, you’ll consider eating less fish and less meat while you’re at it, because the meat industry is also a high contributor to climate change.

I’m so passionate about the environment and climate change that it has encouraged me to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle. I know this isn’t feasible for everyone, but that doesn’t mean people can’t lessen their meat intake every now and then. I promise, it’s not that hard and it really helps the environment.

Given recent studies that reveal the true gravity of the situation at hand, it is more important now than ever to change our ways so our planet can survive. Climate change is an indisputable fact – that’s not what this piece is about. It’s about the fact that I’ve seen a complacent attitude surrounding environmentalism occur when people decide to give up plastic straws. People think they’re doing enough. They’re not.

The reality of the situation is that giving up straws isn’t enough. It’s a good start, but I fear it leads to complacency and slacktivism. Complacency is going to kill this planet and as Greta said on Monday, “This is all wrong.”