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Elimination Plastic Straws To Reduce Environmental Polution

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The program of elimination plastic straws was started by a 9-year-old boy Milo Cress and his campaign “Be Straw Free”. He realized that every time he orders a drink it will always come with a plastic straw, and it was an enormous waste because he could easily drink without using straws. He fortified restaurants to propose straws only if the customer asks, by doing that he encouraged buyers to take the straws only if they need. Disposable straws are known as “the world’s most wasteful product ”. Individuals use straws on a daily basis and getting them to act is hopeless, because the majority will not even take into consideration the bigger picture of consuming tons of plastics. In the US about 500 million people use plastic straws every day, which is nearly 1. 6 straws per person. Only about 9% of plastic used every day is recycled, 79% are either thrown to the ocean or somewhere in the landfills, the rest 12% are burned up which also causes other consequences to the atmosphere.

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Straws are a small portion of the whole plastic pollution issue in the world since, after manufacturing goods, factories just throw their garbage to the oceans, and these actions affect the marine life. Usually, all plastic straws are made of polypropylene – a type of plastic made from petroleum. Food and Drug Administration approved that this type of plastic is food-safe; however, there are testimonies showing that under the heat or UV light, polypropylene can leach and turn into liquids. Unfortunately, degraded plastics are consumed by various animals in marine life and there is a possibility that when people eat seafood they consume micro pieces of plastics; consequently, we are not only harming the marine wildlife but also ourselves and our health.

Before coming to Singapore, I was unaware of the fact that the different Food and Beverage establishments are banning plastic straws to reduce the amount of plastic produced. When I arrived, I was so surprised to see that, instead, of using regular plastic straws, people use metal straws or do not use straws at all. This made me think that people actually care about the environment and that is the reason for them to start taking action towards this enormous issue on the planet. In my country, Kazakhstan, citizens do not really care about global environmental problems. Even though they do know that using plastic goods will harm the environment, yet hardly anybody does anything to prevent it. In my country I was surrounded by people who were not worrying about these issues, that might be the reason why I was not taking the plastic pollution problem very seriously. People are so used to using plastic straws that they cannot imagine life without them. This led me to think that if I had 2 choices: either to use plastic straws or use the metal ones, I would not consider the consequences and just take the plastic straws since for me it is the most convenient choice. For about 2 to 3 years ago, people were not even talking about plastic pollution but now companies, especially in the food industry, have started to promote conscious consumerism which made people all over the world stop and think of what and who is truly harming the environment.

For example, Starbucks is planning to remove straws in all countries by 2020. As companies start to ban these straws, some people start to think what are the reasons for banning them and what can they do to help. I clearly remember a situation when I bought a soft drink in a can and I said to the cashier that they forgot to give me a straw, and a woman told me that they do not provide any plastic straws. That was during my first week in Singapore, I was so mad because I felt that that can was very dirty and unsafe to drink and that time I could not understand why would they ban straws. But because they did not offer me a straw I started to think of the reasons for them doing that, and because of that, I am now more aware of what is the actual issue behind that situation.

One of the unintended consequences of banning plastic straws might be the oral health problem, which is widely spread among the children. Straws decrease additional contacts with the cans, that were made either from aluminum or from tin-plated steel and etc… Lots of people were taking part in producing, packaging and delivering these cans and bottles, which means that the drinks displayed to us in the supermarkets are not clean and safe to drink. Nowadays, children have higher levels of tooth decay due to a large variety of sweet and sugary drinks, consequently working dental professionals recommend young generation to drink soft drinks using plastic straws in order to lessen their contact with cans or bottles. But, since the amount of plastic straws offered is decreasing rapidly, children get a higher possibility to have problems with oral health. However, there are other studies that show that straws not necessarily protect teeth.

Since even if soft drinks do not go through the front teeth, they will still reach the back ones. ‘The only way to protect the teeth is by placing the straw behind the tongue and sip the drink straight down the throat. But this method is uncomfortable and impractical. The tongue is in constant contact with the teeth, so if soda or coffee touches your tongue, it will also get on your teeth’ – said, California-based dentist, Dr. Burhenne. (Baulkman, Mail online, 2018). So it is a very arguable question whether plastic straws are helping to prevent the oral health issues or they are the reasons for having dental problems. But I strongly believe that they help us to reduce contact with different liquid containers.

The second unintentional effect might be the negative response from people with special needs. When making recent decisions to ban the straws, nobody asked what would be the opinion of a disabled person and how will he or she reacts to this. Plastic straws are used by disabled people as an “accessibility tool”. ‘Along with many disabled people, I need both. Not as a lifestyle choice. Not as a luxury. I need straws that bend, ones that can handle all drinks, including medication, and all temperatures…. ’ said Penny Pepper, a writer and disability rights activist.

Currently, there are several alternatives for more eco-friendly straws, but they also have different negative consequences. For example, Bamboo and Glass straws are costly for the consumer, not suitable for hot drinks and beverages, and they may lead to some injury risks. Unfortunately, paper straws are not firm enough for some individuals, while metal straws are not soft and malleable enough. Disabled people make up 15% of the worlds’ population and by banning plastic straws we are banning the most convenient way for them to drink, eat or even take medications. Their needs are being overlooked by people who don’t have disabilities.

‘Our voices are so often left out of the conversation, and our needs so rarely considered, because disabled people are not seen as fully equal members of society’- Karin Hitselberger wrote in a piece about the straw bans for The Washington Post. The proposed alternatives are not feasible options because they lead to other concerns. For example, paper straws disintegrate and metal straws are problematic to clean independently. Some disabled people might have limited mobility and it will be problematic for them to always carry their own utensils. In some restaurants and cafes, plastic straws are hidden under the cashier’s table, which is a very smart idea in order to offer them for people who really need straws to eat and drink. But still disabled people are not treated with equal rights as “able-bodied” people, so I think before making any decisions towards these problems we should also consider disabled peoples preferences and capabilities. In my opinion, if we want to reduce the amount of plastic consumed all over the world, we should start little by little from ourselves, our families and friends.

By starting small we can make at least a minor contribution to help the environment by reducing the number of plastics consumed. I think before banning plastic straws government and manufacturers should first come up the next best alternatives of straws, this way people would switch to other options and the spontaneous ban of plastic straws would not bring that much harm to people. And for now it is still not common for people to drink without using straws, so I think it is possible to charge an extra fee for every straw. This will force people to think whether they actually need straws or not. Then gradually people will actually find ways to reduce their plastic usage. We can also substitute plastic straws with compostable straws made from plant proteins or come up with many other ideas. There are more than 7 billion brains on our planet, I hope one day when all the people will be treated equally we will make a better alternative to solve the problem with plastic pollution.

15 Jun 2020

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