January 18, 2011

We Suck.

When we drink from plastic straws, that is.

Photo courtesy flickr.com | mangobeat

Unless you have a health issue that prevents you from drinking directly from a glass, using a straw is superfluous. If you’re concerned about aging, sucking on a straw–like smoking–can cause wrinkles around the lips. If you’re concerned about the environment, many straws are made from polypropylene (#5)—a petroleum bi-product. And since they’re not stamped with the #5 plastic symbol, they’re not recyclable.*

Off to our landfills straws go. Or waterways and, eventually, our oceans where large pockets of plastic soups threaten the food chain. (A friend who cleans up beaches on a regular basis claims straws are the second most frequent item found).

Lots more than 60 million straws a day thrown away.

While I had a difficult time locating stats on plastic straw consumption and waste, I think I can safely deduce from McDonald’s website that, since they serve 60 million people globally per day, at least that many straws are used and thrown out each day. That doesn’t account for other fast food chains, restaurants, coffee joints or families that purchase straws for home use. Plastic straw consumption and waste could be epic.

If you need a straw, why not a glass one?

GlassDharma straws are sturdy, fun and even elegant. Made in the U.S.A. from a heavy duty glass (borosilicate, the same glass used for coffee pots), these straws even has a lifetime guarantee against breakage (but don’t throw it against a wall-it can and, with force, will break). They’re even dishwasher safe. You can also get an eco-friendly case so you can take it wherever you go.

Free shipping at myEARTH360.com when you enter ELEPHANT!

What else you can do.

Certainly, conscious living is not always perfect and once in a while we might get a complimentary plastic straw in our drink when we’re out. Can’t exactly send it back. The damage is done. If you can remember to, request a straw-free meal before you sit down or carry out.

If you know any jaw-dropping plastic straw facts, please share them here!

More about #5 plastic recycling.

Communities that accept #5s are generally forced (by poor economics) into bundling them with other plastics to form a mixed plastic bale. This mixed plastic bale is of low value and is often shipped overseas to an unknown end of life. Although my waste management provider accepts #5 plastic (only if it has the #5 stamp), they specifically do not accept plastic straws and were unable to not give me a reason why. Check with your waste management provider. But don’t rely on the first answer being correct!

Preserve’s gimme 5 recycling program, located in most Whole Foods stores, accepts #5’s, but not plastic straws. Preserve’s Li Chen says:

We would love to be able to recycle plastic straws but if it is not specifically marked #5 we can’t accept it in the program. Plastic straws are not always #5 plastic and plastics that are not marked as #5 may contaminate our #5 plastic supply.

* I recommend checking with your local recycling company to clarify what can and can’t be recycled, as it varies not only by recycling company, but by city/town. But beware: in my experience, you need to ask more than one person. I’ve found the answers vary and often times start with “I think” or “I’m pretty sure.” Ask who you should speak to for a 100% for sure answer.

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