Recently, there have been a spate of videos that have gone viral regarding plastic straws and their negative impact on marine life, particularly turtles. These videos reflect the pervasion of marine pollution in today’s seas. Although straws are viewed as a small part of the world’s ocean pollution problems, they are nonetheless a problem that we can and should be eliminating. Overall plastic pollution is growing at an alarming rate and is the primary reason for the increasing contamination of our oceans. Plastic straws are largely responsible for the global epidemic which is rapidly killing or maiming sea turtles who ingest them. The United States consumes more than 500 million plastic straws each day. While they are not the largest contributor to the enormous amount of plastic refuge in our oceans, they are nevertheless part of a growing problem.
One does not necessarily need to use straws; they can almost be considered a “luxury”. However, if used they should be either biodegradable or compostable. Studies have proven that drinking straws do, in fact, ensure cleanliness and protect teeth enamel. The most compelling argument for using straws is that one does not know nor can one see whether or not their cup is clean. Thus, the consumption of a drink with a straw, as long as it is biodegradable or compostable, can be both environmentally friendly and sanitary. Paper straws have numerous pros: they are not overly expensive to produce, can be sturdy for the most part, hygienic as a single-use item, are both FSC certified and FDA approved, can be easily printed with food safe inks, and provide an opportunity to be more environmentally responsible. Drawbacks of paper straws include: while not prohibitively expensive, they do cost 2.5 cents in comparison with half-cent plastic straws. This price difference can make the switch from plastic difficult for many businesses. However, it has been argued that if most people converted to paper straws, the cost would almost certainly decrease as production increased.
Taft’s food and service provider, Aramark, is currently attempting to promote the reduction of plastic in our oceans by removing plastic straws. The campaign “Sip Smarter” with the advertisement “Turn the Tide on Plastic in our Oceans” encourages customers to switch from plastic to paper or biodegradable straws. Plastic straws were discontinued in the Jig last fall and have been replaced on a limited basis with paper straws. Procuring paper straws has been occasionally difficult for the Jig, not because of the price, but because a previous vendor has stopped selling them. To fill the void, Taft has been ordering paper straws directly through Amazon. As Taft gets on track with paper straws, it is evident to Nicole from the dining hall staff that “Aramark is a very environmentally conscious company, and is clearly trying to do their due diligence to make less of a negative impact on the environment.”As switching to paper or biodegradable straws continually presents financial and access-related challenges, conversation about whether or not we, as a society, even need straws at all has begun. Regardless, it has become increasingly clear that the days of plastic straws are numbered. The issue of its paper counterpart, however, remains a hot topic.