Grabbing a plastic straw has become habitual for so many of us; we might grab a straw without any thought to how this seemingly insignificant decision contributes to what has become a substantial impact on our environment.
Based on national averages, each person in the United States uses about 38,000 straws by the age of 65, and each straw can take up to 200 years to decompose. Put in this context, what on its face appears to be a trivial choice which most people do not give much thought to, does in fact carry significant consequences.
Single-use plastic items are contributing to the destruction of our environment and endangering marine animals and wildlife. According to National Geographic, over one million marine animals die as a result of the more than 8 million tons of plastic that escapes into our environment and oceans every year. The majority of plastic pollution comes from items that are not able to be recycled and become trash, left to pollute our planet.
To address this crisis, environmentalists are advocating moving beyond expanded recycling programs and simply restricting single-use plastic products to eliminate them from the trash stream. Connecticut proposed legislation to achieve this during the 2021 legislative session but it failed to pass.
Now the federal Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act is awaiting review in the U.S. Senate. I implore all citizens to educate themselves on this critical legislation and encourage their family, friends and neighbors to make their voices heard by our elected representatives. Voters must express their ongoing support for the bill and help reestablish Connecticut as a leader in the fight to confront this environmental and public health crisis.
Restrictions on plastic straws would not only produce an undeniable immediate environmental benefit but would also aid in facilitating a shift in public thinking about the amount of unnecessary waste produced in daily life. In order to dramatically reduce plastic contamination in our environment both awareness and a commitment to reduce unnecessary use is required. However, with regard to plastic straws, as there are numerous environmentally friendly alternatives, an elimination of plastic straws is not only straightforward but the only responsible approach.
One objection to a ban on plastic straws is the need for an exemption for medical necessity. Plastic straws are often required for people with a disability since paper or metal straws are not appropriate substitutes and can even be dangerous as metal can damage teeth, transfer heat, and pose a risk of soft palate injury. Paper straws are often not functional for some individuals as they will not hold form once bitten down on which is problematic for those dealing with tremors, seizures, or other involuntary movement disorders. However, these objections can easily be addressed in the federal legislation by adopting a policy similar to what has been introduced in the United Kingdom. In the U.K. people with disabilities and those with medical conditions are exempted from the plastic straw ban and are able to request a plastic straw when visiting a restaurant or place of public accommodation and can purchase them from a pharmacy as a medical product.
Critics of the legislation also often cite cost as another reason to oppose the ban. However, paper straws average about two and a half cents whereas plastic straws cost about a half cent. This price difference amounts to just under one dollar a month for individuals based on the national average straw consumption. This additional cost seems minor when compared to the significant environmental impact it will impart.
As pollution continues to escape into our environment and oceans every year humans, animals and plants are being harmed as a result of frivolous human habits. Single-use plastic products like straws are used for a matter of minutes and left to destroy our planet for over 200 years. It is time for us all to become mindful of the daily choices we make, what we put into the refuse stream, and how we interact and impact the environment. By working together, educating and enrolling others in this essential change, success is possible due to the numerous environmentally safe alternatives available to consumers.
Bergen Kobienia is a senior at Trinity College, majoring in Public Policy and Law.