Plastic straw ban proves a divisive issue among Americans

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FILE – This July 17, 2018 file photo shows wrapped plastic straws at a bubble tea cafe in San Francisco. If you want a straw with your drink you may soon have to ask at California restaurants. Lawmakers in the Assembly voted 45-20 Thursday, Aug. 23, to send Gov. Jerry Brown a bill to bar full-service restaurants from giving out single-use plastic straws unless customers request them. It wouldn’t ban straws as some cities have. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

This summer saw progress towards an eco-friendlier country from many different groups and initiatives. While some are aiming to ban the use of plastic bags, as has been done in some cities such as Austin, Boston and Los Angeles, others are focused on utilizing more forms of renewable energy, like solar panels or windmills, into their daily lives. However, out of all of the ideas and movements aiming to help our planet’s growing problem, none have been quite as controversial as the debate regarding the ban of plastic straws.

This divisive issue has recently become one of the hottest topics in America, with supporters on both sides of the argument heatedly debating the pros and cons of plastic straws in our world. People in favor of banning plastic straws have made the obvious arguments; plastic straws litter our streets and oceans, kill our marine life and continue to add to the destruction caused by the production of plastic. However, critics of the ban may have more substantial arguments than most people would expect.

While many people agree that plastic straws are polluting our oceans to some degree, there is evidence suggesting they are not the biggest or worst contributor to the pollution of our oceans. According to scientists, lawmakers and academics, the actual greatest source of pollution in our oceans is cigarette butts. Cigarette butts are the huge issue that nobody seems to be talking about. They litter our sidewalks, roads and water systems, but people seem completely oblivious to their offending presence in daily life. The fact is, with the huge amount of them that are walked over daily, people have just started to ignore their presence altogether. Multiple politicians from New York and California have attempted to pass restrictions and resolutions in order to alleviate this issue, but these efforts have been largely ignored. The only area that has seen significant change in the matter is San Francisco, where a tax has been added to cigarette packs to help pay for the cleanup of discarded cigarette filters.

Clearly the issue of cigarette butts in our country is one that is often overlooked and needs attention. But just because plastic straws may not be considered as large an issue as cigarette butts does not mean we should continue using them and attempt to solve a different problem instead. There are many entities and objects that are destroying our environment, but we will not help our planet by taking down these issues one by one. If we want to stop the continuous damage we do to our planet, we need to be comfortable attacking many of these issues simultaneously and with great force.

Critics oppose the plastic straw ban, not only because straws are convenient and functional- a critique of many of the paper straw replacements- but also because the use of straws is necessary for some people. There are many individuals who must use straws to drink beverages, but since the majority of people do not require straws, we often forget about this group of people. Lawrence Carter-Long, the director of communications at the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, explained the situation best: “What has happened here is a situation that happens time and time again when it comes to the disabled community, and that is ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ If people don’t personally need straws, they fail or neglect to realize that there are people that do”.

This argument is extremely valid. Many people claim there is no harm in removing plastic straws because they are not necessary, but to some individuals, even in the minority, plastic straws are a necessary part of daily life for some individuals. However; this does not mean that plastic straws are the only solution. I see little reason that these plastic straws cannot simply be replaced by the paper ones implemented in some communities or by reusable metal straws that some people have begun to use.

We must keep in mind that while straws may not be the root of every issue, they are causing problems and could easily be replaced by something different. With a little creativity and cooperation, there could be simple solution to this problem that helps improve our environment without leaving anybody completely without straws.


Emma Hungaski is the associate opinion editor  for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at emma.hungaski@uconn.edu.

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