Waste Management

Is It Time We Got Rid of Plastic Straws?

Oct 02 2017 Read 1139 Times

After ubiquitous pub chain JD Wetherspoon became the latest to stop automatically placing them in its customers’ drinks, the plastic straw could be on its last legs. Citing the lengthy time it takes for the straw to decompose in the environment, campaigners have branded them profligate and purposeless.

So is it time we waved goodbye to these common but contaminating drinking implements?

The case for straws

The sight of a plastic straw in your drink is as commonplace these days as ice cubes and fruit, with many advocates claiming that they not only making drinking easier, they actually improve the flavour.

Fast food behemoths McDonald’s, for example, maintain that beverages taste better when drunk through their own plastic straws, which are slightly wider than other outlets. With a daily customer base of 3.5 million in the UK alone, that’s a shedload of free straws given away every single day.

Meanwhile, dentists have long advocated drinking tea, coffee and fizzy drinks through straws, since they can reduce the amount of liquid with which your teeth come into contact. This, in turn, can reduce the erosion and staining brought about by corrosive and sugary liquids.

The case against straws

Despite these arguments, the evidence against straws seems to be overwhelmingly damning. The majority of plastic straws are used for the duration of one single drink – less than 10 minutes, in many cases – but will take centuries to decompose in the environment.

Since recycling of plastic straws is not commonplace, many of them end up in landfills or in the ocean, contributing to the huge amounts of pollution in our waterways. Although the extreme weather in the Caribbean and Asia has made prevention of pollution after tropical rainstorms a hot topic of late, cleaning up our oceans has been a priority of many environmental groups for years now.

Indeed, fashion designer Vivienne Westwood recently lent her support to Refuse the Straw, an online campaign which encourages people to forgo the straw in their drink and imbibe directly from the glass.

What can you do?

Wetherspoon’s announcement that they will be phasing out plastic straws in favour of eco-friendly paper alternatives in all 900 of its UK pubs by the end of 2017 shows that the industry is starting to wake up to the wastefulness of plastic straws.

Despite the progress, some campaigners believe that such actions don’t go far enough and that the government should begin to levy a tax on straws in bars, as it now does with plastic bags in supermarkets.Why on Earth do you need a straw in your gin and tonic anyway?” complains Mark Hall, commercial director at Business Waste UK. “The industry can do something about it, but so can we as consumers - it's easy to say: ‘No straw please.’”  

Indeed, along with reusing grocery bags and avoiding plastic water bottles, cutting out plastic straws could represent one of the easiest ways to reduce your plastic waste. Only by working together collectively can we curb our damaging effect on the planet and bring plastic waste into line.

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