The Social Impact of the Plastic Straw Ban: One small step for society, one giant leap for the planet
In recent years, cities around the globe have taken up the initiative to ban plastic straws. Undeniably, this has become a topic of debate over the impact such a ban can really have. Many have argued that the ban on plastic straws is ineffective in reducing plastic pollution in the oceans because straws constitute a very small portion of plastic pollution. While these critics would be correct that straws do indeed consist of a small part of what contributes to the plastic problem, they forgo the impact this ban has socially. The ban on the plastic straw is a small, yet bold step in the right direction; it is a stepping stone to sustainable action. The ban is an introduction to the general public that a more sustainable way of life is achievable.
Plastic in the ocean is such an important issue because it is widespread, difficult to control, and affects both marine life and the ecosystem. Due to the ocean’s size and currents, cleaning up plastic has become onerous: plastic can be found in the most remote places of the planet, and once waste enters the ocean, it is difficult to reclaim. Plastic releases toxic chemicals that damage the health of the ecosystem, as well as the health and genetics of animals who consume it mistaking it for food. Furthermore, plastic can kill animals by causing suffocation and starvation as it gets caught in their digestive tracts. Plastics continue to cause harm by coating food sources like reefs, thereby poisoning reefs and depriving marine life of proper nutrition. Plastic is, arguably, the most damaging material that plagues our planet.
Faced with the destruction of and amount of waste in the ocean, environmentalists have identified many possible solutions. The ban on the plastic straw is one action that has gained momentum in our global society, particularly because it is a small and simple change. However, straws make up a small portion of plastic pollution, leading people to believe that the ban should not be a priority and constitutes an ill advised solution to the plastic problem. This perspective focuses too narrowly on the physical impact of the ban as the value of the ban rests in the social influence it has had.
The United States uses 500 million straws per year. Compared to how much non-straw waste the country produces, the straw itself is rather insignificant. But every action counts, regardless. Environmentalist Jane Goodall acknowledged this when she said, “Every individual matters. Every individual has a role to play. Every individual makes a difference.” It is the action of the ban that counts because it is accessible for the public and it inspires consumer-based environmentalism by creating awareness.
The focus on the straw exposes the fact that we use a significant amount of single use plastics: products whose lifespan extensively outlive their usespan. The ban forces people to acknowledge that, for the most part, these single use plastics are unnecessary. Additionally, it illuminates how our society has ignorantly formed wasteful habits and sends the message that a life without these harmful plastics is attainable, respecting the fact that plastic items (such as straws) may be a better option for some people with disabilities.
The awareness that the ban has created has inspired people to reevaluate their habits. For example, the Low Waste lifestyle, a lifestyle that focuses on creating as little waste as possible, has recently gained momentum. Another way it changes people’s thought process is that it opens their minds to participating in environmental initiatives like No Waste November introduced by the nonprofit organization Roots and Shoots, during which people pledge to adopt a sustainable habit for an entire month.
The fact is, the ban on plastic straws makes consumer-based environmentalism easier for people by demonstrating that there are more sustainable options that are attainable—and that some of our wasteful habits are simply unnecessary. Every action counts, however small. Consumer-based environmentalism is key because of the supply and demand base of capitalism. What we demand is supplied, and what we refuse sends a message to companies. The ban on the plastic straw has an influence in the social sphere, in which the impact of the individual is revealed. It may not save the environment, but its social influence has the potential to inspire people to do so.
Kamilia Grove, on behalf of Roots & Shoots (Glendon Chapter)