Plastic Straws, A Thing of the Past?

Plastic straws are often used for a few minutes and then are left to biodegrade in our landfills and oceans for the next 200 years. Image from:

A new movement has been sweeping the globe, tackling the plastic pollution problem head-on by banning single-use plastic straws in restaurants, bars, and other businesses.  The majority of plastic straws are used only for a few minutes and then discarded, where they are then left to biodegrade in our oceans and landfills. While tackling plastic pollution can seem like a daunting task, eliminating single-use straws provides an easy way to begin reducing plastic waste from our day-to-day lives.  By eliminating plastic straws, we help cut down plastic waste and perhaps, more importantly, helps to spread awareness about plastic pollution.

The plastic problem is one of the most prominent environmental issues facing the globe today. Although plastic straws make up only a fraction of the overall plastic pollution, removing them from our everyday routines is definitely a step in the right direction.  Recent figures from the United Nations show eight million tonnes of plastic enter the ocean each year.  Another report stated that, during cleanups led by Ocean Wise and WWF-Canada, 17,654 straws were picked up off of 2,800 kilometers of Canada’s shoreline by volunteers, making it the ninth most common item found.  Plastic straws take an estimated time of 200 years to biodegrade.  In the meantime, straws often end up littering our oceans and beaches, damaging ecosystems and threatening marine life.  If we continue to dispose of plastic waste at the same rate we do today, by 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean.

An estimated 8 million tonnes of plastic waste ends up in our oceans each year. Image from:

There is a new movement that aims to ban the use of all single-use plastic straws in restaurants, bars, and other businesses, in order to reduce global plastic pollution.  Participating businesses are asked to either provide compostable straws, only give out straws when asked, or eliminate them all together. The movement has hit several major cities within the United States, including Seattle, Miami Beach, Malibu and California, and other countries across the world, from Taiwan to Scotland, both banning single-use straws earlier this year.  As for Canadian cities, Toronto and Vancouver have both made efforts, with many local restaurants and bars voluntarily pledging to eliminate plastic straws or to provide eco-friendly alternatives.  Currently, there is no ban on plastic straws in Canada; however, Trudeau stated that the issue would be addressed when Canada hosts the G7 summit later this year.

Alternatives to Single-Use Plastic Straws:

  • Compostable straws (ex. Paper Straws)
  • Reusable straws (ex. Glass, Metal, Bamboo, or Reusable Plastic Straws)
  • Go Straw Free!

Critics have argued that eliminating plastic straws will have very little effect on the plastic problem as a whole, as they only make up a small percentage of the plastic waste disposed each year.  Sarah King, the head of the oceans and plastics campaign at Greenpeace Canada argues, however, that the banning of single-use straws is beneficial as it allows people to rethink the necessity of single-use plastic items in general.  The banning of such a frivolous item initiates discussions about plastic pollution, forcing people to stop and think about what other single-use items can be discarded or replaced with more sustainable options.  Once people realize how easy it is to eliminate straws from their everyday lives, they may feel motivated to pursue other sustainable options.

On May 17th, 2018, the City of Vancouver has recently approved the ban for plastic straws, containers, and cups by June 2019! It is a promising step away single-use plastics but it will be interesting how this can be implemented on a municipal level.

Simon Fraser University should take part in this movement to help reduce plastic waste.  Currently, there are a couple places on SFU’s Burnaby campus that are using compostable straws, such as in the Mackenzie Cafe and the Dining Hall; however, many others, such as Tim Hortons and Starbucks, continue to use single-use plastic straws.  Next time you’re on campus, go the more sustainable route by bringing your own reusable straw or going completely straw free!


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