These days, people interested in not destroying the Earth are busy figuring out ways to cut our addiction to disposable plastic, which is destroying the Earth. They’ve settled on getting rid of straws as a good place to start. Straw bans have already been approved in Seattle and San Francisco, and the freakout about government overreach has begun, complete with right-wing trolls adopting straws as their new tool for triggering the libs.
I have a simple message for those people: Hand over your straws, you giant babies. We’re going to win this one, and once our straw purge is complete, we’re coming for the rest of your single-use plastics, too.
Let’s get one thing straight: All throwaway plastic straight-up sucks, but straws suck the most. And yes, that pun was absolutely intended. The long game here is to get rid of as much disposable plastic as we can, and to shift to something more sustainable. But a war is made up of many battles, and we’re picking this battle right now for good reasons.
One reason is that straws lack even the minimal redeeming characteristics of some other disposables. The takeout containers you get when you order delivery? Sure, they’re bad too, but at least they can potentially be washed and reused, or recycled. Condoms, which should NEVER BE REUSED, have serious health and well-being benefits. But plastic straws have no redeeming qualities. They can’t be recycled AND they won’t stop you from getting chlamydia.
You also don’t really need them, if you’re being honest. They’re useful if you need to drink a giant cup of icy soda while driving, but is that really the hill you’re going to die on? Not likely. So we’re coming for your straws.
Fun fact: One pesky thing about plastic straws is that they hang around forever after you throw them away, slowly fragmenting into smaller and smaller pieces wherever they’re dumped. Once they enter our waterways those microplastics can look deceptively like food for our aquatic friends. Microplastics get into their digestive system and compromise their ability to ingest actual food and, you know, survive.
For some people, such as those with certain disabilities, straws are non-negotiable. And in these cases, biodegradable alternatives like cardboard or paper don’t work — they can present a choking hazard if they become soggy. Other reusable options, such as metal and silicone straws, aren’t appropriate for every personwith a disability, either. But it is crucial that we don’t exclude these groups of people from the overall conversation. Exceptions can be made in the straw purge. We aren’t monsters.
There are a few big players leading the charge in the “look how eco-conscious our typically unsustainable business is” movement. Starbucks is shifting away from plastic straws, with a plan to eliminate them in stores by 2020. Even the Happiest Place on Earth has pledged to say sayonara to plastic straws — by next year all Disney locations (except Tokyo) will be free from plastic suckers, eliminating an annual total of more than 175 million straws from their venues.
To make things even worse for those clutching onto their straws, the purge is happening with the help of some of the most annoying celebrities in the world. Tom Brady posted a video on World Environment Day encouraging people to drop single-use plastic straws (and this comes from a man who knows how to drop things when it’s all on the line). Even Kim Kardashian is not OK with the disposable plastics epidemic, sharing an alarming video with her followers. Not only are your straws being confiscated — they’re being snatched from your hands by a Kardashian.
Will banning straws save our oceans? Nope. The anti-ban crowd is totally correct that this move, on its own, won’t fix everything. But they’re missing the point, yet again: This is just the beginning. We've got a mountain of garbage to climb, and it’s made up of much more than drinking straws alone. But by purging straws, we’re changing a small but consequential part of the daily throwaway plastic habit, which is a key part of the bigger picture. Habits aren’t easy to break, but they’re also not set in stone.
There’s a long history of authorities intervening this way — ordering companies to remove toxic chemicals from foods or dangerous pollutants from their factories. Whether it’s cigarettes or trans fats, rules have been introduced that steered people away from things that they loved that were also terrible for the world. And if you’re mad about not being able to get a straw for your soda, try getting a piece of carved ivory, or a bowl of shark fin soup.
Straw bans are the gateway to exploring and expanding reusable alternatives on a global scale, and to getting the ball rolling on another kind of mass behavioral change. That might sound scary to people who believe that municipal bans on plastics are the first steps on the road to serfdom, but in times gone by those people would have been screaming about being forced to wear a seatbelt in the car, or whining about not being allowed to smoke in restaurants.
Bad news, you giant babies: You would have been on the losing side then, and you’re on the losing side now. Suck it up.
Alice Hoving is a freelance writer and creative living in Sydney.