By Kay Whatley
The recent push to get rid of plastic straws is resulting in US chain restaurants, coffee shops, and hotels removing straws from their facilities. That’s good news, though it is only a small piece of the pollution problem we humans have caused for Earth, wildlife, and ourselves.
When the last plastic straw is gone — or replaced with paper straws — it will be only the tip of the iceberg as far as human contamination of our lands and surrounding waters. Humans throw away a number of plastics in addition to plastic straws. Other short-term use plastics include spoons, forks, plates, coffee cups, cold beverage cups, condiment packets, toys forgotten in minutes, and packaging from just about everything we get at the grocery store. (Even canned soups have plastic liners between can and contents.)
When I was a child — that would be in the 1970s — butchers still wrapped meats in wax paper. Fruits purchased at farm markets or orchards — grocery stores didn’t all sell produce back then — came in paper sacks. Paper straws were common. Milk came in cartons. Restaurants, for the most part, provided real silverware (metal utensils) and glasses/ceramic mugs for drinks.
Those “old fashioned” reusable, washable, or compost-able options worked. Yes, they were less convenient because they needed to be washed and stored. Honestly, though, having so many single use items for our convenience has reached a point where it is ludicrous — single-use plastic items are coating the land, floating in the ocean, and choking the planet just so we can avoid washing/reusing things.
To minimize plastic waste — plastics that will be here long after our great-great-great grandchildren are gone — we must go back to a slightly less convenient way of living where we re-use things or buy only materials that can be recycled. That may mean more products made of, or packaged in, glass, metal, etc. like in the old days.
For those who still want disposables, bioplastics that are biodegradable may offer convenience items that are biodegradable. Bioplastics may be used to give us the convenience of plastics without the everlasting pollution. Not only are bioplastics made from natural substances like corn, hemp, and so on — rather than petroleum-based plastics that will never completely go away — some bioplastics also biodegradable, compost-able, and some are even edible.
So, while you’re getting used to life without plastic straws, keep your eyes open for the other plastics in your life that you can stop buying/using. Look for alternatives to minimize single-use items — and talk with your elders to find out how they managed without plastics in their lifetime.
After all, petroleum-based plastics have only been around for a little over 100 years. Let’s get rid of them now, folks, and our planet may struggle less, and perhaps even recover during our great-great-great grandchildren’s lifetime.
Ed. Note: No matter how efficiently US households operate, or how much they recycle, there will still be pollution. Industrial pollution, pharmaceutical/processing pollution, and corporate trash cannot continue unchecked or we will have no drinkable water in our grandchildren’s lifetime.