Order a meal at any large-scale, multinational food establishment or cafe, and you will most probably be greeted with a drink served in a cup as usual, and yet lacking a miniscule but fundamental aspect — the straw. Or perhaps instead of the usual bendy plastic prototypes we are all familiar with, paper straws have taken to vacating the throne of our espresso-filled cups.
Indeed, such has been the surprisingly rapid advance of the movement against plastic straws that industry heavyweights including Starbucks and McDonald’s have taken to banning the very products in their stores, opting instead for the more environmentally friendly paper substitutes. In a further step, Starbucks also offers a meager discount for those who bring their own reusable cups. In early July, Seattle City in Washington, USA became the first to completely ban the use of all plastic straws in the city, and a few months earlier, Alaska Airlines removed all plastic straws and bags from its flights. Many smaller companies have since followed suit, hopping aboard the anti-plastic-straw-pro-environment train. And so powerful, indeed, was this train, that it has been dubbed as The Straw Wars of 2018.
Help me ask @Starbucks to #StopSucking! Big business with its reach, wealth & influence needs to make hard commitments to keeping plastic out of our ocean. I’m asking #Starbucks at their shareholders mtg to phase-out plastic straws & recommit to their failed sustainability goals. pic.twitter.com/tmRFvykJu4
— Adrian Grenier (@adriangrenier) 21 March 2018
And in the wake of the viral campaign, companies have been innovative and creative, too, in offering alternatives to the offending plastic — metal straws have all been on the rise, particularly among the youth eager to take part in the newest cutting-edge activism, and metal straws are an undoubtedly sustainable solution, and perhaps more importantly, highly Instagram-friendly. Far from the mundane plastic originals, new reusable straws come in stylish alternatives — from metal to bamboo, rose gold to rainbow.
And all this is an inherently honorable surge of activism, despite its fad-like virality. It is, after all, beyond time that we face the consequences of centuries-worth wasteful activity. Environmental website GetGreenNow states that plastic ingestion kills 1 million seabirds and 100,000 marine animals, and plastic straws are difficult to recycle, take up to 200 years to decompose, and are the 11th most common trash in the ocean as of 2017. The World Economic Forum reports that there are currently 150 million metric tons of plastic in the ocean, and should this trend continue, there will eventually be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050.
So in retrospect, the new wave of anti-plastic-straws has long since been coming, and our concern for plastic waste long overdue. But as environmental activists have long been saying, the current craze for plastic straw activism is a mere first step, a prelude and gateway drug to the larger issue of wasteful consumerism, and holding up a mirror to those accountable — ourselves. The truth is, widespread awareness of environmental issues are nothing new, and we have all grown up amidst pressing issues of global warming and climate change, warnings of recycling and saving the earth. But it is a different time now, and the Internet, if anything, has served as a foghorn for activism, and a successful one it has been too, in this regard. So while reusable straws may currently be having their moment in the spotlight, they should not be the be-all and end-all of our concern for the environment. The Internet is a fickle thing, and popular trends and discussions come and go everyday. But as for the planet’s well-being, there certainly is a time limit, and whether or not the popular passion for environmentalism sticks around is entirely up to us.
So in answer to whether or not metal straws will save the earth, the answer would probably, most likely, be no — if it remains that way. Refusing the use of plastic straws certainly does its part to help the growing problem, but there are other bigger, long-term steps to take as well, such as developing materials to replace plastic, as reported by Vox, and banning the use of all single-use plastics in order to make a larger dent in helping the planet. While it is helpful to bring out our own reusable straws, patting ourselves on the back does nothing to fix the larger issue — but internalizing the reason behind it, and collectively taking an active role and interest in the environment beyond plastic straws guarantees more progressive action, and a healthier environment in the long run. And that is something we can be proud of.