Life is all about trends. This year, we seem to have found one that might be more then just a phase.
Society has decided that rejecting plastic straws in favour of metal or more environmentally-friendly options is now the trendy thing to do.
But is this a sustainable trend, and is it really going to help the environment in the long run?
The no-plastic trend started out with campaigns from anti-plastic groups such as Plastic Pollution Coalition, which started the The Last Plastic Straw.
These groups are advocates of getting corporations to stop handing out plastic straws in an effort to keep them out of our seas and they have been ongoing since as early as 2011.
They issued a challenge to consumers to stop requesting straws with their beverages. Consumers could also go one step further by encouraging their favourite restaurants and bars to only give straws upon request and to switch out their plastic straws for something more biodegradable.
According to The Last Plastic Straw, 80-90% of marine debris is made from plastic.
In fact, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the world produced 311 million tons of plastic in 2014. What is largely contributing to this are the single-use plastics we call disposables, such as plastic straws.
In actual fact, ‘disposable’ plastics are not really disposable and they clog the oceans as well as landfills with plastic pollution because they are not easy to recycle.
In 2015, Christine Figgener, a marine biologist, released a graphic video of a sea turtle with a straw up its nose. The straw was being removed from the turtle and caused it to bleed, hiss and flinch many times. This jarring video went viral with over 31 million views and touched many people's hearts in the fight against plastic.
Photo Credit: Sea Turtle Biologist (YouTube)
The voices of anti-plastic groups grew louder in 2017 as celebrities and Instagrammers started jumping on the trend of saying no to plastic straws.
In 2017, a video featuring people such as The Skins, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Radkey went up with the hashtag #StopSucking. The video showed the celebrities sipping drinks using plastic straws while an octopus tentacle slapped the cups and straws away.
This was followed up with many Instagrammers posting pictures of themselves with their metal straws which made it even more trendy and exciting to own one.
The increase in attention has caused the world to start paying attention with Seattle starting a ban on plastic straws and utensils in July 2018.
With the ban, food and drink vendors are required to offer compostable or recyclable options or to do without them altogether. Many other cities are proposing similar bills in America.
In the United Kingdom, UK Prime Minister Theresa May aims to ban plastic straws, drink stirrers and plastic cotton buds by the end of 2018.
Closer to home, Singaporeans have also made significant efforts to reduce their plastic straw usage.
Recently, KFC issued a ban on plastic straws and plastic lids at 84 of their outlets in Singapore.They were the first fast food chain in Singapore to do this and it was very well received by Singaporeans who felt it caused little disruption.
A Koufu foodcourt at Singapore Management University (SMU) has also stopped using plastic straws. They have additionally introduced biodegradable takeaway packaging as well as reusable utensils for their consumers.
The foodcourt is considering expanding their efforts to other Koufu outlets based on the response at the SMU branch.
Singaporeans are also taking steps individually to reduce their impact on the environment with the introduction of metal straws.
Seastainable is a social enterprise which supports marine conservation in Singapore and the Philippines. They do this by selling metal straws and giving half of their proceeds to different marine conservation groups.
To date, the organisation has sold over 400 normal sized metal straws and even metal bubble tea straws.
However, how sustainable are some of these options?
Recently, Starbucks issued a ban on plastic straws in their outlets. They replaced their straws with plastic nitro lids and this change will completely come into place in 2020.
Photo Credit: Starbucks
However, they have already received much backlash for their new lids considering that it uses more plastic than the company's current lids and straws.
Starbucks has since come out to say that their new lids are recyclable while the straws are not.
However, considering that most plastic still ends up in dumps and landfills, this does not seem to be a very durable change that Starbucks has made.
This has since sparked a discussion on if all these efforts to ban straws will only end up making things worse or if they really are sustainable enough to carry on for years to come.
For example, even the act of bringing out a metal straw is something that might quickly lose its novelty. While it’s very trendy now to be seen with one, eventually people will grow tired of having to carry it around and to clean it constantly.
It also takes away a lot of the ability to be spontaneous with outings unless you carry it around at all times which is inconvenient.
Photo Credit: Seastainable
Furthermore, disability groups have also started to to worry that the elimination of straws will greatly impact a disabled person's ability to drink.
Many disabled people rely heavily on straws to help them with their drinks as it can be difficult for them to bring a cup to their lips.
For people with severe disabilities, straws are not frivolous waste but rather a necessity. Eliminating them further eliminates disabled people from our society and that is not okay.
Already many disability groups are starting petitions and planning protests against the banning of plastic straws.
So the question then becomes, is this really sustainable? Will we really be able to eliminate the use of plastic straws when doing so can often be inconvenient or outright exclusive to people with certain needs?
Or if this just a passing trend that will quickly lose it’s appeal?
My opinion on this is that more needs to be done to make it sustainable.
For example, for customers who are dining in, restaurants and vendors could serve their drinks with metal straws to eliminate the necessity of carrying one around constantly. They could also have plastic straws kept aside and to only be given out upon request to cater to people who really need these straws.
Ultimately, the world is making great progress to help the environment and every bit counts. However, if we really want to make a change, we need to make sure that these efforts don’t disappear or phase out like most of the trends we see today.