Plastic straws are getting a lot of negative press these days. News stories featuring plastic straw phase-outs from major brands like Starbucks, American Airlines and Marriott have been in the headlines repeatedly. And as more brands join the movement, more and more pressure is being put on cities and communities to ban plastic straws.
Single-use plastics in general have been under fire from environmentalists for some time, but the difference now is that awareness of the global “no-plastic-straws” movement is going mainstream.
Respected publications like National Geographic have published articles covering the plight of our oceans and the animals that are impacted by plastics and especially plastic straws. And social media certainly has played a major role in bringing awareness to the masses. Most notable is the video that went viral of a sea turtle with a plastic straw embedded in one of its nostrils. While the incident occurred in Costa Rica in 2015, the images and video still are widely distributed and have hit a chord with animal rights advocates, environmentalists and the general public.
Part of the backlash from this and other images of birds, mammals and sea life ensnared and killed by plastics has resulted in global campaigns like the “Say no to plastic straws” cause and the push to ban plastic grocery bags; both are starting to gain momentum nationwide and globally.
Of course, plastic straws are a small part of much larger problem. Have you heard of “The Great Pacific Garbage Patch” in the Pacific Ocean? The Washington Post recently published an article detailing the concerns scientists are raising about a large area in the ocean between California and Hawaii. According to the article, this garbage island contains 79,000 “tons of plastic debris, in the form of 1.8 trillion pieces,” and now occupies an area three times the size of France.
Unfortunately, this is just one garbage patch among many throughout the planet’s oceans. And plastic is the main component of these floating garbage islands. It’s estimated that consumers are throwing away 8 million tons of plastics every year and that much of it ends up in the oceans. Projections are this will increase by 22 percent by 2025.
But the possible harmful effects of plastics to the oceans, birds and animals doesn’t begin to address the more worrisome nature of plastics in our environment. Scientists say small particles, called “microplastics,” are invading the food we eat every day. Microplastics occur when plastics in the environment and the oceans break down over years into very small microscopic particles.
According to globalcitizen.com., the average person ingests 70,000 microplastics each year, mostly from the environment, water and shellfish. Scientific studies show that microplastics are found in bottled water and drinking water from the tap. In fact, earthday.com says microplastics can be found in 83 percent of tap water samples from major cities around the world and in 93 percent of the world’s top 11 bottled water brands.
So, what does that mean? Studies on the effects of all these plastic particles in humans are scarce. Many more studies on marine life exist, and the results vary widely depending on the animals or fish life studied. Researchers wonder how microplastics that end up in animal tissues or organs will affect them long-term, but since studies are in the early stages, it’s hard to determine what those plastics in the bodies of animals, and humans, will mean.
So, while the effects of ingesting plastics in humans and animals have not been quantified as of yet, we can try to reduce the use of plastics in our own personal environment, even if all we do is stop using plastic straws.
It’s a small step, but turning down a plastic straw when you dine out is a start. And all of us can do that one small thing. Who knows, after making your voice heard at the restaurants, bars and fast food establishments you frequent, you might find that it feels so good, it will lead to other changes in your life – and in your neighborhood, your city and eventually the world. Remember the old saying, “Think globally and act locally.”
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