Why refuse straws

So Singapore has slowly started to ramp up its sustainability efforts and of course there are detractors. On the surface their arguments seem to make sense, so I thought I’d attempt to refute their comments here. Mainly because I would like to be further educated on the environmental impact.

Straws don’t produce that much waste.

So one of the universities in Singapore recently opened a new food court and they’re not providing straws. *gasps of horror ensue* Part of one of the comments was this:

The whole event is just a gimmick. Plastic straws constitute an extremely small percentage of total plastic use in this world and its total elimination will not even make a small dent in the world’s plastic consumption.

This basically sounds like “it’s such a small thing, it won’t make a difference, so why bother?” Here’s why.

1. Plastic straws are a one-time use product. You’ll hardly ever see anyone reuse a straw (not even if it’s a bubble tea straw). More likely, they’ll just toss it when they’re done with it, and not into a recycle bin. Even if they did try to recycle it, the straws are not actually recyclable.

2. The numbers are much higher than we think. A cafe in Singapore reported using a box of 10,000 straws within two months, which means a single restaurant would use about 60,000 straws per month. Multiply that by the number of restaurants, F&B places, coffee shops etc, and the numbers could be astronomical.

3. Where do the good straws go to when they die? Most of them end up in the sea. This article estimates that 71% of sea birds and 30% of sea turtles have been found with plastics in their stomach (of which some may be straws), since they can’t tell if straws are food or not. Apparently Ocean Conservancy’s volunteers have picked up enough straws to line California’s coastline (840 miles) if laid end to end.

4. We have to start somewhere. Maybe bringing your own bag or your own tumbler (guilty) is too much effort, but surely even you can say no to a straw. Just refusing one straw every time you get a drink (assuming you get three drinks per day that may come with a straw) will reduce your straw consumption by a thousand in a year. That’s a thousand pieces of plastic you’ve saved from ending up in the ocean and in unwitting marine and birdlife.

I usually refuse taking straws. In fact, I don’t really order drinks nowadays, preferring to drink my water if I have, or hot tea (since I’m always cold). If I get barley at the bak kut teh place, I always say no straws via the iPad ordering system and sometimes I return the straws to the staff as well (to odd looks. One waiter even wanted to get me a straw after seeing I didn’t have one). I’ve even requested a Starbucks staff to serve me a green tea latte in a mug rather than their disposable cups, and a Soup Spoon staff NOT to seal their lemon tea cups so I wouldn’t have to pierce it with a knife. You can see the unsealed, strawless cup in the featured image above. I think every bit helps to reduce the amount of trash landing up in our landfills and in our oceans.

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