The Last Straw: Small steps are first steps. They can’t be the last steps.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Our planet is unique in its own way. It has the ability to maintain life like no other, create food naturally from the ground, provide water for us to drink, even clean the air we breathe. It’s designed to be able to clean up any natural waste produced by itself, yet we have started to produce waste that the planet was not ready for. Plastics continue to make their way into the oceans affecting marine life that is essential to our survival, though many have started to follow the trend of ditching straws to eliminate plastic waste and help the creatures of the ocean. This may be a step in the right direction, but just saying goodbye to straws isn’t saying goodbye to all the trash on the planet.

The constant waste being ejected into the environment has started to result in deaths of major marine ecosystems which is causing fish to mistake trash for food. This waste doesn’t just affect the animals, it has also started to affect us. As fish eat toxic materials and humans continue to eat fish, all the waste eaten by the fish is also being eaten by people consuming the fish. People don’t seem to really think about what is being consumed from the animals. The waste in these animals can include dangerous and potentially harmful poisons such as lead and mercury. These can result in a person running the risk of having different types of cancer, neurological damage, and kidney failure to name a few of the consequences.

The damage doesn’t just stop at diseases. According to LiveScience, around 783 million people do not have any access to clean water and 2.5 billion people don’t have access to proper sanitation. Along with this, water temperatures are continuing to rise which leads to a reduction in oxygen for marine life causing their deaths.

Saving the ocean has been deeply promoted since the start of the year in order to maintain wildlife, such as turtles, and people have put the blame on plastic straws for the uncleanliness. In an attempt to lessen the load of pollution on the Earth using fewer straws and using a more Earth-friendly alternative seems like the right idea, but fewer straws are not the key to a pollution free environment. It may be the key to a guilt-free life.

Plastic waste is found in large parts of our oceans covering approximately 40% of the earth’s ocean surface. In a recent study done by Stanford University, there is an estimated 158 million metric tons of plastic in our oceans and about 8 million tons are added each year. It is also estimated that by the year 2050 there will be more plastic floating around in our oceans than there are actual fish. With all this in mind just how impactful are removing straws from everyday use? Less than one percent of the plastic waste comes from straws, not even a major portion of the overall plastic problem that our oceans face today. Eliminating the use of them is a good start to a more environmentally friendly life, but it is not the final answer. Instead, this trend may be giving people a cushion in believing what their doing is enough when there are more impactful actions someone can take.

In an attempt to lessen the load of pollution on the Earth using fewer straws and using a more Earth-friendly alternative seems like the right idea, but fewer straws are not the key to a pollution-free environment. It may be the key to a guilt-free life.

Due to a large amount of trash floating around in the ocean, it would not only take a large amount of time to clean up but also a large amount of money to get the supplies needed to clean the ocean. According to nbcsandiego, the cost to clean up the majority of the patch of garbage floating in the Pacific ocean is between $122 million to $489 million in order to hire enough boats to clean up the garbage. The cost may seem large though this should be the top priority for people since the pollution will affect everyone’s future.

Some companies have pledged a stand to ban straws in order to have a green footprint in the environment. Starbucks, for example, has said to get rid of plastic straws altogether by 2020. Other major companies such as American Airlines, Disney, and Royal Caribbean have also said to ban or at least reduce the use of straws.

Major companies are not the only ones that need to make a change. Regular people can also move towards a less environmentally harmful life. Simply using reusable water bottles instead of buying plastic ones all the time can make an immense difference. While grocery shopping, buying fresh vegetables instead of pre-wrapped in plastic can make a change. Even the simple act of throwing your trash in a garbage bin instead of the ground can change the way things are in the world.  

The most impactful plastic production hurting our earth is the production of plastic bottles. Plastic bottles are used every single day for sodas, coffees, water and so much more. According to NBC news, multiple beverage companies produced around 239 billion plastic bottles in 2004 and by 2017, 494 billion bottles were produced. With the trend continuing, the amount of bottle production is estimated to reach 594 billion by 2022, only three years from now. To put things in perspective, around 1.6 billion bottles are being made every day.

Some of the most contributing companies to the plastic bottle industry include Coca-Cola, Nestle, and Pepsi which are all major producers of plastic bottles for drinks. The popular soda company, Coca-Cola, makes around 110 billion plastic bottles a year contributing to the ever-growing plastic in our oceans. These companies are making an attempt to be more environmentally friendly. For example, the CEO of Coca-Cola plans to use 50% of recycled material in their plastic bottles by 2030, but as of now the company only uses seven percent of recycled material.

With all the plastic being produced, the ability to create better alternatives exists. The obvious solution would be to simply recycle more, though that hasn’t been working as it should be. Instead, replacing harmful plastic with something better could be a start. Shopping companies can start replacing the use of plastic bags for grocery shopping for cloth bags or simply no bags at all.

Getting rid of straws is a step in a good direction in order to maintain the earth at a healthy level. In order to let the earth keep the air clean, provide natural food, and let life continue living we have to start taking a stand to move the world to a better place.

Jocelyn Pinedo is a columnist for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl

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