By Scott Kriner, Green Metal Consulting
Recent headlines have focused on California instituting a ban on single-use plastic straws. Other similar bans have been introduced in Seattle, Washington; Vancouver; Taiwan; the United Kingdom and throughout the European Union.
At the Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanups, volunteers have picked up more than half a million straws and stirrers, making straws one of the top ten items on their annual list. According to the Concervancy, straws pose a real danger to animals like sea turtles, albatross and fish that can eat them.
The average person uses 1.6 straws per day.
It was interesting to see that the metal construction industry has something in common with the plastic straw issue. In both cases, Life Cycle Assessment is in the forefront to help companies, states, and countries to select products based on the impact on the environment.
According to the American Chemistry Council, “plastic does its job better than alternatives. They let us do more with less material. And, using less material is an environmental benefit that results in reduction in resources and energy use, greenhouse gas emissions and waste. In fact, a 2016 study by the firm Trucost found that the environmental cost of using plastics in consumer and packaging is nearly four times less than if plastics were replaced with alternative materials. In other words, switching from plastics to alternatives would dramatically increase environmental impacts.
This debate is not new. Remember the grocery stores that were giving incentives to shoppers for using cloth bags rather than plastic bags to save the planet? Trust me. I think my wife probably has more than half of all of the cloth bags ever made!
The American Chemistry Council and its partners continue to work to keep plastics in use but out of our oceans.
Another issue related to the straw ban is the fact that people with disabilities often cannot drink a beverage without the assistance of a straw. The ban would force those with certain disabilities to navigate another obstacle in public.
Just like metal construction has many types of materials, so does the straw industry. In addition to plastic straws, other types of single-use straws include paper straws and even hay straws that are made from natural wheat. They are 100% plastic-free and biodegradable.
Our society’s concern for the health of our environment has changed significantly from my child years when my father and I would be able to hit golf balls off of the aft of a cruise ship with no thought to the impact on the aquatic life in the ocean. In those years we also witnessed tons of raw waste being dumped from the ships in the evening hours. Things are now much better with regard to saving our oceans. On a recent cruise I noticed that plastic straws were still available - but only if requested by passengers. That is a start.
Hopefully the disposal of any discarded plastic straws will include a recycling process to minimize the impact to the environment.