Plastic Straw Bans Won’t Solve The Pollution Crisis, But It’s A Start

Around the world, plastic straw bans are having a moment. More than 10 million plastic straws are used in Australia every day, so surely this can only be a good thing. An article recently published in The Washington Post says otherwise.

According to scientists working with the Ocean Cleanup organisation, just under fifty percent of the rubbish floating in an enormous island of plastic, known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, is attributed to fishing nets. With this in mind, are campaigns targeting a reduction in the use of single-use items like plastic straws a waste of time?

Tangaroa Blue, founders of the Australian Marine Debris Database, list plastic straws as one of the top ten most found items on their beach cleans. As do the Ocean Conservancy, who run the annual International Coastal Clean-up. I run a cleanup initiative called Operation Straw, designed to tackle the prolific amount of plastic straws regularly found in a dive site in my local area.

Image: Operation Straw

Over Summer last year, 318 volunteers participated in Operation Straw and helped remove more than 2,300 plastic straws from an area the size of four Olympic swimming pools. But it's not so much the amount of plastic straws found along our coastlines that is a cause of concern, but the fact that for most of us, plastic straws are not a necessity.

Plastic straws are the symbol of single-use plastic in modern society. They cannot be recycled, and like most other forms of plastic, will never biodegrade. Like plastic bags, water bottles and take-away coffee cups, plastic straws are items we use for just moments that will then be on this planet longer than we will.

From tea bags to chewing gum, single-use plastic has infiltrated our lives like a parasite. Walk the aisles of any supermarket, and you'd be hard pressed to find products not covered in the stuff (so much so that some supermarkets now have 'plastic-free' aisles). Acting on single-use plastic can be overwhelming for the average consumer. By starting small with an ubiquitous item like a plastic straw, people are encouraged to look at the bigger picture by taking a peek at the smaller, suckier one.

Image: Operation Straw

Everyday behaviour change is a completely different ball game to acting on big issues like climate change or over-fishing. Choosing reusable alternatives to items like straws or coffee cups gives consumers the power to act on plastic pollution through their own individual choices. These kinds of simple choices are easy for people to do but are a major potent catalyst for thought. By educating and empowering people to do something as simple as saying no to plastic straws, we're opening the doors to understanding the more complex issues that are impacting the health of our oceans.

Businesses who have decided to remove straws from their operations are part of a society that is slowly but surely shifting towards more conscious consumerism, something we can all raise our trendy, straw-free cocktails to.

Harriet Spark is a dive instructor turned graphic designer, and founder of Grumpy Turtle Design. Passionate about conservation through creative communication, you'll find her either underwater or above sea level, designing for change. You can follow Harriet's adventures on Instagram.

Read this next: Beyond Plastics: The Next Steps Towards Sustainable Living


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