Thursday, November 1, 2018

Monthly Micro-Actions: The Last Plastic Straw

*MLA’s note* I’m so happy to introduce Laska Paré! Laska is one of our amazing constituents in Saanich South, and is also a monthly guest blogger on my website! She writes about tips on small changes we can make in our day-to-day lives to encourage us to live more sustainably. Read on below to find out more! -Lana  

Some things in life have become the norm; being handed a paper receipt upon making a purchase or getting a plastic straw when you order a drink at a restaurant. But what are all of these ubiquitous norms leading too? Millions of gallons of oil and trees and billions of gallons of water being consumed.. And for what? A small piece of paper most people don’t want and a bendy plastic tube used for an average of 20 minutes (or less). Just because it’s become “the norm” doesn’t mean it’s free from major hidden consequences.

The Plastic Drinking Straw

Humans have been using “drinking tubes” for over 7,000 years[1].  In the 1880s, gentlemen sipped their whiskey through long tubes made of natural rye that lent a grassy flavor to whatever drink they plopped in. In the 1900’s when polio was rampant, soda fountains offered paper straws to prevent contact with shared glasses.[2] But then came the 1950’s. With the popularization of cars, the quick-meal revolution emerged which included the creation of low-cost disposable packaging: Long and behold the plastic straw was born!

Disposable plastic straws are not recyclable. One study published earlier this year estimated as many as 8.3 billion plastic straws pollute the world's beaches[3], and none of the commonly used plastics are biodegradable. As a result, they accumulate, rather than decompose, in landfills or the natural environment.

The environment is not just one little piece of the world’s puzzle. It's what every single thing in our life depends upon!

Maybe you’ve heard of food vendors and restaurants offering compostable plastics, such as straws and cutlery.. Within the market of consumer plastics is the growing industry of bioplastics – plastics made from plant biomass, such as corn. As marketable as biodegradable and compostable plastics are, there’s often more to these claims than meets the eye. Consumers often mistakenly assume these plastics will decompose in a reasonable time frame but for this to happen the bioplastics require the ‘right’ environment for them to decompose, e.g. the infrastructure. As well, this solution assumes that all the bioplastics actually find their way to the industrial facility which is unlikely.

Biodegradable plastics don’t make all that much sense in a long-term context. Plastic is a complex, highly refined synthetic material — why create something that requires a significant amount of energy to manufacture, only to have it disappear forever into the soil? Seems like a large consumption of resources for a short-term gain.

Micro-Actions For November

We can all vote with how we choose to spend our dollars, but some companies will always have more dollars than you. I encourage you to vote with your voice! Ask for “no straw” wherever straws are served, and don’t be afraid to tell restaurants and bars you frequent to only serve straws upon request. Very likely, you’ve been hearing more and more about cities and companies banning plastic straws, and Vancouver is going to be the first major city in Canada to ban plastic straws[4]. This is because awareness of the wastefulness of plastic straws has increased thanks to people taking a stand and saying “no” to using plastic straws. While we wait for city hall to declare Victoria as the second city to ban plastic straws in Canada, Mayor Lisa Helps encourages citizens to take a ban in their own lives on single-use items because it’s pretty easy to do if you just give it a little bit of thought[5].