Walk the remote shores of the coastline, where the sunbeams and the wind sings, and you’ll find miles of warm sandy white beaches. You’ll also find plastic straws. Orange ones, red ones, clear ones. They are just about everywhere. This reason isn’t hard to fathom because whether you’ve ordered an iced coffee or a coke, the likelihood of getting your drink handed to you with a straw, is high. Now you never think to yourself “Wow, what a brilliant invention! A liquid-extraction device!”, because when does it ever really come to mind? You finish sipping and lob it into a recycling bin, because it is plastic, you are a good person, that is what we’re taught to do. Newsflash, straws are actually not recyclable. They will sit and keep composure either in a landfill, or eventually float out into the clear blue sea. So imagine, that number probably adds up to millions of straws used every day and then billions per year.
It’s not that the straw is the worst plastic, or the most common plastic, or the most lethal-to-aquatic-life plastic. It’s due to the fact that the straw is really a gateway plastic, cunning in its seeming innocence, in our capacity to peer it for what it truly is. Which is unnecessary, toxic flotsam, contributing to the mass of plastic garbage as a way to maybe someday outweigh all the lovely creatures in the sea. We have heard excuses: you need the straw to keep the coffee from staining your teeth. You don’t want to reapply your lipstick. A straw might be many things-a personal preference- but in the wake of conscious thought, it is mostly nothing, which is what makes it such a difficult norm to break: you never even recall picking it up in the first place.
While plastic straws could be considered one of the latest inventions, humans have been using hollow, cylindrical tubes to bring liquid to their lips for centuries. It is known that about 5,000 years ago “Ancient Sumerians, one of the first to brew beer-submerged long, thin tubes made from precious metals” (Gibbens). The Smithsonian Institute cites a widely known legend that says, in 1880, Marvin Stone was enjoying a beverage on a hot summer day when his piece of rye grass, which was then used as a straw, began to break apart. Stone then decided he could invent something bigger and used strips of paper to wrap a pencil, he then had unfolded an early prototype of paper drinking straws. He patented his design in 1888, and by 1890, was mass producing them (Gibbens).
Fast forward to the 1930s, straws finally gained the ability to bend. Inventor Joseph Friedman “Inserted a screw into the straw, wrapped floss around the screw’s grooves, and took out the screw” (Gibbens). Friedman then patented his design and before he knew it, the popular straw found its way into milkshakes all over the country. Manufacturing then began to take hold to mass produce plastic straws.
The world is now wrestling to recover from its plastic pollution hangover. Banning plastic straws has been a movement that over the years, has gained a lot of attention. This is where paper straw comes in, it’ll cost about a penny or two more than plastic and for larger corporations that equals hundreds of millions of dollars, but to the marine environment, you simply cannot cap a price.
After the anti-straw movement took off in 2015, a wave of banning straws took place. But this well-intentioned campaign assumes that single-use plastics, have everything to do with ocean pollution. Americans use up to 500 million plastic straws per day and though this number is awful, it’s safe to say that there probably billions of plastic straws scattered on global coastlines (Minter). In other words, though the banning of plastic straws is great, is it really effective and what other substitutes are coming in to take the place of plastic straws?
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