Starbucks Joined The Ranks Of McDonald’s Who Are Also Banning Plastic Straws
Starbucks, one of the biggest coffee companies in the world, if not the biggest, decided it would be banning plastic straws by the year 2020 and using other materials instead (1).
The company released a statement on Monday saying they wouldn’t be using straws anymore, and would instead, create a cup where a straw wasn’t needed.
The news of this big change comes after McDonald’s made a similar announcement. In the United Kingdom, McDonald’s stated they would begin testing out paper straws plastic (1).
Environmental activists, for a long time, have been pressuring major companies to stop using plastic, due to the waste and its effect on marine and aquatic life.
In 2015, a widely circulated video of a sea turtle having a straw removed from its nose contributed to the growing concern (1).
And it isn’t just corporations that are caving to environmentalist pressure. Cities, municipalities, and townships are introducing their own laws to combat the ubiquitousness of plastic.
For instance, last week, Seattle announced they were getting rid of plastic utensils and straws (1).
Even though straws are a very small portion of the amount of plastic trash, it’s one step in the right direction. According to the CBC, plastic straws make up around 4% of plastic debris (1).
Plastic straws, every year, add up to around 1,800 tonnes to the 8,000,000 tonnes dumped into the ocean and other waters every year. One of the greatest issues we face today has to do with the swaths of plastic in the ocean (1).
Why is this a big deal?
Many people are simply unaware of the result of our use of plastic, not only in the streets and in the city dumps, but also on the oceans, rivers, lakes, our water supply, and the food we eat, especially fish.
The Effect Of Plastic On Our Oceans And Food Supply Is Clear
The human population conglomerates along the coast and the tides washing onto the shores are increasingly filled with plastic waste. It really isn’t an exaggeration (2).
Over the last fifty years, mostly as a result of industrialization around the globe, humanity has increased the amount of plastic at an exponential rate (2).
While it’s good that many countries are lifting themselves out of poverty and are joining the developed world, the collective plastic waste of humanity poses a problem.
In 2013, 299 million tons of plastic were created by manufacturers, which was a 4% increase over 2012. By the end of 2015, Global Industry Analysts had predicted we would reach 297.5 million tons (2).
According to Statistica, in 2016, the entire world produced 330,000,000 tonnes of plastic. If it’s so bad, why do we continue to use it (3)?
We use it so much because of how useful it is as a product (2).
For instance, it’s versatile, light, flexible, moisture-resistant, strong, and it doesn’t cost a lot of money. For these reasons, it’s easily one of the most attractive materials to use for manufacturing, industry, and food packaging.
However, the issue is waste, as the product doesn’t bio-degrade nearly as easily as paper products. In combination with the fact that the material doesn’t decompose, our tendencies as human beings are to buy a product, and once it’s no longer useful, to toss it into the trash.
And with 9 billion people on the earth, and the amount of trash produced by each person every day, it ends up being a lot of waste.
According to a study published in the journal, Science, in February 2015, we dump around 8 million metric tons of plastic in the ocean every year (2). However, some of it ends up in the ocean indirectly.
People are often surprised to find out, for instance, that whenever you toss a cigarette butt on the ground, there’s a good chance that it will end up in the nearest water source.
According to Plastic-Pollution.org, an island called, Midway Atoll, is about as remote of an island as a place could manage to be. However, its isolation hasn’t rendered it immune from the wave of plastic (2).
The publication reports that Midway’s beaches are covered in plastic, including plastic particles in the sand, plastic fishing nets, and large containers (2).
What’s particularly striking is the small pieces of plastic intermingled with the sand. And the marine life, as well as birds, eat the debris.
Birds and fish will eat the tiny particles, because of the similarity between it and their naturally occurring food.
The plastic pollution in this area is immediately apparent, considering the number of animals who die, their entire corpses decomposed, but where their stomachs used to be, lies a pile of colorful plastic.
According to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, around 100,000 marine animals and mammals die every single year (2).
In a report from the GESAMP, the United Nations Joint Group Of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Pollution, around 80% of the world’s marine pollution comes from the practices on land, and 60-95% of the waste is plastic (2).
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch And Marine Life
Due to ocean currents, the plastic litter slowly accumulates near major ocean vortices, and forms gigantic “garbage patches,” like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
It’s an island three times the size of France, made up purely of plastic debris and trash. Captain Charles Moore first brought the world’s attention to this gigantic garbage patch in 1997 (2).
And this won’t be the only one, as each year, we use more and more plastic. And truthfully, the biggest issue isn’t even the large particles that we can see with our eyes.
Much of it is microscopic particles.
For a long time, environmentalists have rallied against plastic as a product that lasts a very long time and doesn’t fully evaporate.
When it does decompose, it doesn’t fully break down the way organic material decomposes, it just becomes small particles of plastic, scattered across the sea and across the land (2).
Dr. Richard Thompson, from the University of Plymouth, called the tiny pieces of plastic, “mermaids tears.” And the pieces of debris are everywhere; near Europe, America’s, Africa, Australia, and Antarctica (2).
According to Mr. Thompson, the pieces of plastic can decompose to the point where they’re as thin as a human hair (2). But even though we can’t see them, they’re still there, and they’re still plastic.
The particles aren’t absorbed into the system. Instead, they’re eaten by plankton, and then the plankton is eaten by other marine animals. It travels up the food chain and wreaks havoc on the world’s ecosystems.
Moreover, when the plastics decompose, they release toxic chemicals called bisphenol A, and PS oligomer.
Recently, a group of oceanography students from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, (SIO), took a trip to the North Pacific Ocean and discovered plastic debris and garbage.
The director of the organization, Tony Haymet, stated that what they found – like it was mentioned before – was not only garbage patches, that float by every now and then, but tiny pieces of plastic debris just below the ocean surface.
It’s hard to tell because the pieces are so small, but they’re there. One of the students remarked, “Oceans pretty much looks like the ocean.”
But, she explained that it took the use of a magnifying glass to really see the extent of the amount of plastic damage in the North Pacific.
Maziar Movassaghi, the director of the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, explained that tiny marine life are eating pieces of plastic, which travel up the food chain, and humans eat the fish that have little bits of the waste in them.
Essentially, we’re eating our own waste. He said, “the world population is eating fish that have eaten other fish, which have toxin-saturated plastics.”
The Effects Of Plastic On The Human Body
Plastics that travel through the food web, end up not only in the food we eat but in our water supply, For instance, around 90% of human begins have some form of plastic chemicals in their body (4).
As it was mentioned earlier, the chemical, Bisphenol A, or “BPA,” is used for polycarbonate containers as well as the lining of food and beverage containers. These chemicals slowly leach into the food and drinks we consume (4).
In a report from the US Center For Disease Control and Prevention, 93% of humans have trace amounts of BPA in their urine.
To researchers and scientists, the fact that these chemicals are exposed to infants and children are of increasing concern (4).
Shanna Swan, a researcher who looks at reproductive epidemiology at the University of Rochester, stated that there is a link between altered genital development and exposure to phthalates – a plastic substrate (4).
BPA and other phthalates likely increase the rate of diabetes and heart disease, and PBDE’s damage the brain as it grows and the reproductive system (4).
However, of course, the plastics industry denies the allegations that their products have adverse side effects on the human populace and the environment.
Mike Neal, who works for Plastics Europe, said the ingredient in each product is “carefully evaluated,” not only by the companies who use them but also government organizations (4).
Even if Mr. Neal were correct, the devastating effect of plastics on marine and aquatic life, and the oceans, in general, is enough reason for us to reconsider how much of it we use.
- Starbucks Banning Plastic Straws: Wikimedia Commons