Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Tuesday April 24, 2018
‘We need to rethink the entire plastics industry’: Why banning plastic straws isn’t enough
Britain announced this week that it plans to ban the sale of single-use plastic straws, as support for similar bans grows in Canada and around the world.
Advocates say such straw bans should help reduce plastic pollution that harms wildlife and ecosystems, but we need to monitor the effects of such policies. And they say bans may not be feasible for most of the plastics in our lives, so broader changes to the way we produce, consume and dispose of plastics are needed to make a real difference.
Jennifer Provencher, a postdoctoral researcher at Acadia University who studies the ingestion of plastic pollution by wildlife, said Britain’s ban is “an incredibly important step towards minimizing and using plastics more responsibly.”
She noted that single-use plastic items like straws and stir sticks are generally used only for a few minutes before they’re discarded, but can persist in the environment for centuries because plastics don’t typically decompose within a human lifetime.
Scientists estimate we’ve made 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic since the 1950s and 6.3 billion tonnes have already become waste.
More than 330,000 pieces of plastic and foam waste were picked off 2,800 kilometres of Canada’s shoreline by volunteers during beach cleanup events last year, including 17,654 straws — the ninth most common item found during cleanups supported by Ocean Wise and WWF-Canada. Worldwide, 409,087 straws and stirrers were picked up in beach cleanups around the world in 2017, the Ocean Conservancy reports.
Because of their small size, disposable straws are rarely recycled and often end up in the environment.
There, they can cause serious injuries to animals, as shown in a 2015 video that shows a straw being pulled out of a sea turtle’s nostril — the graphic, viral video has been viewed more than 21 million times. (Source: CBC)