Green Beat: Refreshing signs of change

Elimination of plastic straws is a good first step, but much work remains

During this hot summer of 2018, which calls for many cold drinks, straws have been getting a lot of attention. Many establishments are either banning straws immediately or planning for “the last straw” sometime in the future.

Starbucks plans to go straw-less by 2020. In planning for this move, Starbucks has designed a lid raised on one side to provide the customer with a way to sip beverages smoothly without a straw.

The modern plastic straw and its mass production came into being in the 1960s on the heels of the paper version. Paper straws, invented in 1888, are actually starting to make a comeback now as the plastic straw falls into ill repute.

The current furor over the use of plastic straws is related to a 2015 video depicting the removal of a straw lodged in the nostril of a sea turtle.

Now three years later, Christine Figgener, the graduate student who filmed the 2015 video, is glad that the video has sparked the movement by businesses and major companies to ban plastic straws.

The good news for anyone who has seen this video, is that Figgener’s Texas A&M University Team found the turtle still alive and doing well several years after they relieved it of the straw.

Naturally there are detractors out there who see this as a misguided and unnecessary effort. I have seen figures running from 0.02 per cent to 4 per cent on the amount of waste plastic in the ocean due to discarded straws.

We are just focusing on a “straw man” and not the real problem, the critics say.

Furthermore, they argue that the new lid created by Starbucks actually means more plastic disposal, because the modified lid uses more plastic than the current lid and straw.

Starbucks admits this is true, but says it is still an improvement because the lid is much easier to recycle.

Still, as Figgener likewise argues, doing away with throw-away plastic straws is just one step and there is much more to do.

What I think the real refreshing change in all this is, is the growth in the sensitivity of our often callous human race to the suffering of others.

The chance of any straw ending up causing suffering as it finds its way to the ocean may be very small, but still, why not be sensitive to an issue that could cause real suffering, when you could avoid that chance with a very minor change in your lifestyle?

Today I bought a cold beverage and for the first time I can remember, I did not take the “obligatory” straw. I didn’t suffer.

David Clements is a professor of Biology and Environmental Studies at Trinity Western University.

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