But can our bid to save the turtles simply be validated by the aftertaste of soggy cardboard?
Unfortunately, the solace that we find in using paper straws is largely imagined, as plastic straws only represent a tiny fraction of the plastic littered across Earth’s beaches. According to National Geographic, just 0.025 percent of all annual plastic waste is made up of straws, meaning that even if we eradicated every single turtle-impaler on the planet, we would still be left with 7,998,000 tons of plastic flowing into our oceans every year. At that rate, we will have more plastic waste than fish in the seas by 2050, rendering the efforts of even the strictest plastic straw abstainers largely unsuccessful.
This is not to say that environmentally-conscious consumer decisions are futile. As the refrain goes, small changes can eventually go on to make a big difference. However, in a world where rapid declines in marine biodiversity and consistently rising plastic waste production show no signs of slowing down anytime soon, we cannot afford the luxury of gradual change. We have lost sight of the forest for the trees, and it is time to expand our focus to the biggest polluters: environmentally irresponsible corporations.
While the world has largely focused on tackling the plastic straw straw man, a convenient scapegoat to blame for our environmental woes, issues such as the fishing industry’s disposal of fishing gear that make up 46 percent of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch have lost the attention they deserve, according to The New York Times. In our fight against ocean pollution, merely shunning single-use plastics will not be the solution. We need active voices to call for increased governmental regulations to keep industries in check and reduce plastic waste by more than just a mere 0.025 percent.
Mother Nature is growing impatient, and it is time to not only make individual lifestyle changes, but also hold governments and large corporations accountable for environmental destruction. Only then can we take a moment to sit back and enjoy a celebratory toast. Sipping straight from the cup, of course.
Gibbens, Sarah. “A Brief History of How Plastic Straws Took over the World.” National Geographic, 2 Jan. 2019.
Kaplan, Sarah. “By 2050, There Will Be More Plastic than Fish in the World’s Oceans, Study Says.” The Washington Post, 20 Jan. 2016.
Lee, Jane J. “How Did Sea Turtle Get a Straw Up Its Nose?” National Geographic, 17 Aug. 2015.
McKeough, Tim. “A Sea Change for Plastic.” The New York Times, 20 Nov. 2019.