Perhaps you have heard of the latest environmental movement to ban plastic straws. Even though they are small, they are large in number. The activists claim that we use millions of straws every day. That number seems high, at least to me, since I avoid using plastic straws. I figure that I don’t need a straw when I drink water or a beverage at home. Why do I need one in a restaurant? If I go to a Starbucks, I have a personal cup with a straw that I rinse out when I am done.
As Christians, we should practice sound stewardship of the environment, but we also need to think carefully about the impact of a plastic straw ban. On the one hand, all these straws end up as litter, in landfills or in the ocean. On the other hand, there are some people (those with disabilities and small children, for example) that actually need a straw to drink.
At the moment, the biggest plastic pollution challenge is in our oceans, and plastic straws aren’t the problem. Large plastic floating “islands” in the ocean are a major environmental issue. Perhaps the best known is the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” that floats between California and Japan.
The nonprofit Ocean Cleanup has discovered that the Pacific patch is much larger than originally estimated. But plastic straws and plastic bags aren’t the reason. Nearly half (46%) of it was fishing nets. When combined with ropes and lines it accounted for a majority (52%) of the trash. The rest included hard plastics (crates, bottle caps, etc.). When Ocean Cleanup looked at food packaging, they found that nearly a third (30%) was written in Japanese, and nearly a third (30.8%) was written in Chinese.
None of this is to argue against reducing our use of plastic straws. But it does remind us that if we want to address the problem of plastic pollution we should focus more attention on things other than plastic straws.