Sipping on a fancy drink, with a colourful plastic straw, while sitting at a beach-side restaurant looks very appealing. It’s an image that’s sure to attract the love button on social media. But, that straw is no more than a fashion accessory in my eyes. Because while the picture goes buzzing off into the virtual world; that straw goes back into the real world. It’s tangible. It’s plastic. And that’s what makes it very dangerous.
A straw – dangerous? Really?
Consider this. Straws are everywhere – strewn on beaches, flying out of bins and floating in the oceans.
A straw is small in size and made from a stubborn plastic. This makes it very difficult, sometimes impossible, to recycle – if people are environmentally-conscious enough to go that route. The most common route is to toss it. So, after you have sucked on that straw, it sucks the life out of marine life who mistaken tiny bits of that straw for food in the ocean. They are called micro-plastics, and according to the United Nations, there are 51 trillion micro-plastic particles in the world’s oceans already. At this rate, researchers estimate there will be more plastic than fish in the seas by 2050. Yes, that’s very dangerous.
Not just numbers, these are hard facts in a world of over-consumption and increased wastage. It has to stop, before it spirals out of control. That’s what is meant by eliminating pollution from the source. And, that’s given rise to global movements such as The Last Plastic Straw and One Less Straw.
There are new campaigns literally springing up every day. The need is indeed great. Each city, not just each country, must realise how much damage they are causing and change this.
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South Africa, Durban in particular, is not sitting back. Thankfully, several restaurants have woken up to the reality that they can make a difference and no longer offer straws with their drinks. They’ve introduced the changes tastefully with posters and boards that create more awareness about where your straw really ends up. Some may squirm. Traditionally, drinking with a straw has been viewed as more hygienic. Frankly, if you are fine with eating at a restaurant in their plates and using their cutlery, then you should be fine drinking from their glasses without a straw. It’s as simple as that.
Every restaurant in South Africa needs to be bold enough to ditch the straws. And they should trust the quality of their cuisine and service to keep customers coming back. A straw-less restaurant industry may seem far off. But, there was a time when you never thought that you would have to pay for plastic bags when shopping. Or that you would carry your own environmentally-friendly shopping bags. Now, it’s become something you do naturally, without a second though. It’s become a habit.
South Africans have made the biggest changes already environmentally, amid recent periods of prolonged drought. We take shorter showers; baths are long forgotten. We boil the kettle only with the amount of water that we need. We gather and use rain water to wash our cars. Going without a straw is a small change in light of all these, but it can make a big difference. And if you must insist on a straw, there are alternatives that won’t be as harmful to the environment, such as paper and bamboo straws. Whether restaurants will opt for these, ultimately depends on the cost.
Let’s not forget that restaurants are big business and for them to go without straws is a demonstration of their commitment to reduce their impact on the environment. As a customer, getting on the bandwagon is great. But you cannot go back home to use plastic straws. That’s nonsensical.
I’ve never had a personal preference for drinking with straws, probably because the drink I often order when eating out is coffee. But, as a parent, it’s a different story. I think of the birthday parties I have had for my son over the years.
I can’t put a number to how many straws I have used just once, and thrown away over the years. It always seemed easier to use straws. You know, less spillage of drinks from children, less messed up or sticky floors. Now, it makes me feel guilty. My head sinks in shame in that sea of straws. No more straws. No, thank you. I’m giving my son a lesson on that today. Fortunately, he loves the ocean so it will be easier to make him understand why straws will no longer have a place in our home.
If drinking with a straw is a habit that must change with our generation, let’s not encourage it with the younger generation, no matter how subliminally. If you’re planning a party soon, start sourcing straws that can be recycled or do without them. The world will thank you back, soon enough.