The Last Straw

I would never have thought that something that weighs one sixty-seventh of an ounce would cause so much hatred. If you’re like me, ounces are already confusing (why are there 16 in a pound, it makes no sense. And don’t even get me started on why fluid ounces are completely different). Then you throw in a horrible fraction on top of that, and it’s hard even to quantify what it means. For the record, it means that it’s 1/1072 of a pound, or in other words, you would need 1072 straws to make one pound. That’s right. I’m talking about straws.

You’ve probably seen in the news or on Facebook that several cities and companies are moving away from the plastic straw. What was meant to be a small step towards protecting the planet and especially ocean life has turned into a huge debate. Here are some of the facts that have emerged. 

    There are roughly 7.5 million plastic straws around America’s shoreline.

    There can are up to 8.3 billion plastic straws on the entire world's coastlines.

    There are nearly 9 million tons of plastic trash that ends up in the ocean each year.

    By piece, straws make up only 4% of the plastic waste produced. 

    By weight, they make up only 2,000 tons of the 9 million tons of plastic waste each year.(Source)

If you were to do a little bit of math, you could figure out that American straws account for less than 0.1% of the straws in the oceans, and 0.00000022% of the total weight of plastic in the ocean. If you are pro straw, those are some good numbers for you. So basically, the argument has become something along the lines of side A saying “American’s throw 7.5 million straws into the ocean each year, we should do something about it” and side B saying “That’s only 0.00000022% of the plastic waste, it’s not a big deal”.  

Straw debates might also include something about money or people needing them. Plastic straws are super cheap, usually about half a cent. A paper straw is five times as expensive at two and a half cents. So yes, your straw budget would go up five times, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s still cheap (and yes I just used the same argument from above about percentage wise it’s not a big deal). And it's true that kids and some people with particular disabilities need straws to drink. Paper straws meet that need, but even if there were no straws provided, you can purchase metal or reusable silicone straws from Amazon for less than a dollar a piece and bring them with you.

    I struggled with deciding where to go from here. I thought about the old story about a girl throwing starfish back into the ocean (the bottom line is even though she can’t save them all it makes a difference for the ones she can save), I thought about rehashing the “what would Jesus do” thing that I kind of covered in this blog post from a few months ago. However, I think I need to talk about buts for now. 

    At its core, this issue is about whether or not using plastic straws is the best thing for our planet. There is no way to say that it is. Everything that follows that simple question becomes a “but.” BUT paper straws taste gross (they do taste different). BUT people with disabilities need them. BUT plastic straws are the cheapest. BUT I like my straws. BUT they don’t even make up a significant percentage of the ocean plastic waste. All of those things might be true, but it doesn’t change the fact that plastic straws aren’t good for the sea turtles in the wild.

    This principle applies to so many other aspects of life that matter more than a piece of plastic that’s .42 grams (see how much easier metric is). Here’s some simple questions for you. Is spending time with your kids more important than spending time on your cell phone? Are we supposed to love our neighbors? Should we spend time with God? The answer to all of those is yes. When it becomes that simple, it’s like a punch in the gut when you want to add on a “but” to justify playing candy crush instead of playing with your kid. Or trying to explain why an extra 10 minutes of sleep is more important than praying to God. When life gets complicated, make it simpler by asking the fundamental questions. You still might not find the answer you’re looking for, but you’ll find something along the way.