The Negative Impact of Plastic Straws on Environmental and Personal Health

Imagine waking up every morning surrounded by trash. This is what life is like for the fish of the sea because of the rapid rate we use and dispose of single-use plastic items, more specifically, plastic straws. While we throw plastic straws away without second thought, they end up in the ocean where they invade the home of innocent marine life and can be deadly as many fish may confuse them for their next meal. Plastic straws are a part of our daily lives, they are easy to use and just as easy to dispose of. Or so we think.. Many people do not give it a second thought as to where their trash ends up, as long as it is not their problem anymore they couldn't care less. If we continue on with this mindset, we could potentially witness the loss of not only the oceans and marine life, but many other land animals as well. Although there are still situations which still call for straws, there are many other alternatives and plastic straws should be banned because they are not only toxic, but are unable to biodegrade and are polluting the oceans and killing marine life. If we truly care about our environment, we need to take a stand and reduce the amount of plastic we allow ourselves to waste before it is too late. We can do this by switching out our plastic straws for more eco-friendly like options like ones made from silicone, bamboo, stainless steel, glass and even hay.

Plastic straws are not as innocent as they seem. While they are a quick and easy convenience when it comes to drinks, they are filled with toxic materials which can leach out of the straw and into your drink, causing your body some major damage down the road. A majority of straws are made from petroleum-derived polypropylene and although the FDA says that this substance is safe to use with food, it has been proven that it can leach its chemicals into liquids and is able to disrupt hormones, especially estrogen levels. Single-use plastic straws also contain several chemical additives like diethylhexyl phthalate, which is known to build up in the body and has the potential to become carcinogenic over time. This additive can not only weaken the immune system but also stimulate early onset puberty, diabetes, obesity and hyperactivity. Plastic straws are in fact very harmful to the human body, even if we cannot see the effects right away. If the production of these straws goes on, we could potentially see a vast majority of the population suffering from these effects and before we know it we could be too far gone.

Not only are these straws toxic, but they are also unable to biodegrade. Instead of naturally being broken down and recycled into new organic molecules, plastic straws slowly degrade into smaller pieces and fragments but never fully disappear. On average, plastic straws usually take up to 200 years to degrade, although they will never be fully off of the earth. As plastic breaks down, they release toxic chemicals that are very harmful to both the environment and its wildlife. The problem is not only in the ocean, but on land as well. If you take a stroll down the beach, the shores are often filled with plastic straws and other plastic waste. Although these straws are small, added up over time they can make a huge and harmful impact to our environment. Since plastic straws take nearly 200 years to decompose, and are often unable to be recycled due to the specific plastics used to create them, they are able to cause some extreme damage during their lifespan. Our earth is slowly filling up with plastic, and if we want to save it, we need to say no to plastic straws.

Without question, plastic straws cause the most harm to our oceans, as plastic is one of the most common pieces of trash found in them. In the United States alone, we use over 500 million plastic straws everyday if you times that by 365, that is around 182.5 billion straws used per year just in America! It is said if we do not take drastic action soon, by the year 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. If this happens, just imagine how many fish will die from plastic consumption and from the harmful toxins that leach out of these straws. If the ocean dies, we are as good as dead too. Aside from the trees, the ocean acts as a life support system for the earth and provides us with 50% of our oxygen. Not only that, but "the ocean is also the pump that allows us to have fresh water. It is the driving force, along with the sun, of the global circulation system that transports water from the land to the sea to the atmosphere and back to the land again." (Watson 2019). The ocean is filled with plants like seaweed and seagrass which aid in the production of oxygen, but the main producer of this crucial life depending gas, is the microscopic phytoplankton. These plankton feed off of whale feces, which are packed with iron and nitrogen and provide the organisms with their needed nutrients. While these plankton feed off of whales, other fish and marine life in the sea feed off of the phytoplankton. If we lose whales, we lose the plankton and if we lose plankton the we lose the rest of the fish in the sea. The loss of plankton is not the only risk factor for the marine life, but also the millions of tiny pieces of plastic waste circulating throughout the waters. This is a huge issue because when these straws are floating around our oceans, they can be mistaken as food for the fish and marine life. This can cause serious harm to the fish because they are unable to digest the plastic and it eventually builds up in their stomach resulting in their death. It does not end there though. The harmful plastic can work its way up the food chain, ending up on our plates at home, as fish is a popular dinner food amongst the human race. By continuing the production of straws we are not only putting our oceans at risk, but the rest of the life on earth as well.

Although plastic straws are needed for people with disabilities, there are plenty of other alternatives that would work just as well and would not add to the growing plastic pollution issue. Before plastic straws were invented, people who were disabled had difficulty drinking their beverages without choking and getting water in their lungs which resulted in pneumonia. Now that they have access to straws it has made their lives easier and safer, but at what cost? The ocean is still at risk and inevitably so are we. Are plastic straws the only option for the disabled? What are the alternatives? Paper straws can easily dissolve, especially by people who suffer Cerebral Palsy, a disease which causes a person to produce excess saliva. Stainless steel and metal straws can get too hot or too cold and can be painful for people with Parkinson's, which makes it hard for people to control their bite. Other types of reusable straws could be beneficial to these groups of people, but forgetting them at home could become an issue. While these straws are out of the picture for the disabled, there are other options like wooden, bamboo and even silicone. These straws are sturdy and can be recycled when they have served their purpose. They are just as effective as plastic straws, but do not add to the earth's growing plastic pollution problem.

Taking everything into consideration, the ban on plastic straws is important and should be followed through with as these straws are toxic, cannot biodegrade and are polluting our oceans so drastically that we risk losing marine life. While people with disabilities require plastic straws to drink safely there are many other eco-friendly alternatives. This is the last straw. If we do not take action soon we risk losing our oceans, part of our oxygen supply and the healthy lives of the human population. We need to take a stand and say no to plastic straws before we are past the point of no return. 

Works Cited

  1. Cormier, Jordyn. Care2, 20 Aug. 2018, www.care2.com/greenliving/3-ways-plastic straws-are-devastating-for-your-health.html. Accessed 17 Mar. 2019.
  2. "The Environmental Impact of Plastic Straws - Facts, Statistics and Inforgraphic." Get Green Now, 25 Jan. 2018, www.care2.com/greenliving/3-ways-plastic-straws-are-devastating for-your-health.html. Accessed 17 Mar. 2019.
  3. Watson, Paul. Sea Shepherd, 29 Sept. 2015, seashepherd.org/2015/09/29/if-the-ocean-dies we-all-die/. Accessed 17 Mar. 2019.
  4. Archie, Ayana, and Dolla-Joharl Paul. CNN, CNN, 11 July 2018, www.cnn.com/2018/07/11/health/plastic-straw-bans-disabled-trnd/index.html. Accessed 17 Mar. 2019.