Warning: This article features graphic content.
In 2015, marine biologist Christine Figgner and her team found a sea turtle with a strange white tube stuck in its nose. She then uploaded a video (warning: graphic content) consisting of eight heart-wrenching minutes as the team slowly extracted the tube out of the turtle who was deeply in pain. The tube wasn’t the hookworm Figgner’s team had thought it would be. It was a plastic straw.
The video sparked outrage as people realized the cost of the straws they use to sip their iced coffees and sodas. Celebrities like YouTuber Bretman Rock began to advocate for using alternatives to plastic straws in order to “save the turtles.” The most popular alternative is the metal straw. But does sipping your iced latte through a metal straw really make a difference in helping our reptilian friends and the ocean?
While it seems harmless to throw away a straw once you’re done with your drink, these plastic tubes still pose a threat to the ocean ecosystem. Plastic straws are so light that they can’t be recycled and become a part of the eight million tons of plastic trash in the oceans.
To make matters worse, they are also not biodegradable. The straws eventually break into smaller pieces that frequently make their way into marine animals who mistake the pieces for food. In the Ocean Conservancy’s annual International Coastal Cleanup in 2017, plastic straws ranked seventh in item collection with 409,087 of the drinking tubes being found during the cleanup.
As people became more aware of the damage plastic straws can incur on our oceans, they began to take initiatives to whittle down plastic straw usage. Last year, Seattle became the first major American city to enforce a plastic straw ban in all food providers. Companies soon began to take notice and initiative as well. From hotel chains like the Four Seasons to airlines like United Airlines to even companies like Disney, numerous large corporations put an end to plastic straw usage.
But the craze for straw alternatives is not without its critics. Some claim that cutting down on plastic straws usage won’t do much to save the oceans. After all, plastic straws only make up 0.025% of trash in the ocean. Additionally, critics argue that metal straws still contribute to environmental damage as it takes a decent amount of energy to mine for the materials of the straws and to make the straws themselves.
However, advocates point out that cutting down on plastic straws can help nudge people away from plastic straws’ single-use siblings, such as plastic forks and knives, that also contribute to the plastic pollution in the ocean. By using reusable straws on a daily basis, people can have a positive impact on the environment.
Credit: Fshoq! Blog
So, next time you pick up your iced coffee, consider using a metal straw. You’ll not only save the sea turtles, but you’ll also be taking a step towards a plastic-free world.