Say you forget your reusable straw one day, or you just haven’t gotten around to getting one, and the employee brings you your drink accompanied by a plastic straw. It’s too late to send it back or refuse it, so what should you do? Throw it away? Recycle it? The best answer to both of these questions is no; keep it and reuse it. But if these are not options for you, we recommend cutting the straw up into small pieces with a pair of scissors before throwing it away.
How Plastic Waste Affects Wildlife
We know this sounds odd, but here’s why it works. By cutting up the straws, the resulting waste is more animal-friendly in the fact that marine animals are less likely to choke on the straw or starve if the plastic pieces are smaller. Granted, it is not ideal for these plastic straws to end up in our oceans and landfills as it is, but that is the reality of the situation right now. Plastic straws along with plastic rings, often found in soft-beverage or beer six-packs, actually account for a small amount of all the plastic in the ocean. The problem is that animals often get tangled up in these products, choke on them, or even get them and other single-use plastics jammed into their noses.
In 1993, the EPA stated that all plastic rings sold around the U.S. have to be degradable. Companies got around this by making them photodegradable rather than biodegradable. Unfortunately, as a result of this loophole, many marine animals were heavily impacted. To put things into perspective, let’s take a look at a study conducted by the National Marine Mammal Laboratory in the late 1970s about plastic entanglement. In this study, researchers found that plastic entanglement caused over 40,000 seals a year to die, with Northern fur seals declining by 50% in the 30 years that followed.
The Bottom Line: Cut It Up Before Throwing It Out
A single plastic straw can live up to 200 years, while a 6 pack of plastic rings can live up to 400 years. In an effort to stop the increase of the straw and plastic ring population, many companies are working to make the switch to compostable straws and packaging. Some are even turning towards adhesives to hold their six-packs together. But in the meantime, avoiding single-use plastics when possible or cutting up your plastic straws and rings are the most immediate solutions.
And if you are on the market for alternatives to plastic straws or single-use utensils, here are some awesome options: bamboo straws and cutlery, hay straws, wheat straws, cane straws, stainless steel straws, papaya leaf stem straws, glass straws, corn straws, paper straws, or even DIY edible straws…the possibilities are endless!