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I was indifferent on the ‘no-plastic straw’ policy as I can make do without using straws when consuming most beverages. However, reports and findings I came across about single use straws convinced me that I should be concerned. If not disposed of properly, these straws could harm marine life. Despite being worried about climate change and pollution, I am somewhat guilty of not actively helping to prevent it. I barely recycle my takeaway containers and utensils. So, I thought supporting the straw ban would be my first step to ‘eco-friendly’ status and look less like a monster who contributes to Earth’s impending demise.
I started my quest in finding alternatives to plastic straws. The first was a collapsible straw which was interesting as it looked easy to carry around in my bag. I first learnt about it on FinalStraw’s Kickstarter page, but I eventually bought a similar product from a local retailer. The collapsible straw only had one thickness which would not suit all beverages. I then got another metal straw, that I use for bubble tea. My bubble tea metal straw was purchased from The Hive, a Malaysian social enterprise that aims to promote a zero-waste lifestyle for consumers through their everyday use products, and sourcing from local farmers for food products. When I visited their website, they mentioned that RM1 from every purchase of their reusable metal straws contributes to the #TakNakStraw campaign (#NoStraw). The campaign was initiated to raise awareness about reducing consumption of single use plastic in Malaysia and is now a coalition made up of non-governmental organizations and businesses. After using both reusable straws, I realized that I am too lazy to put it back in my bag after washing. I will just continue to make do without straws.
Through reducing and eliminating single-use straws, it might give rise to other possible problems such as increased pollution from production of reusable straws, retailers’ profits and consumer health, as well as neglecting pollution from improper waste management. With retailers rushing to meet the demands of consumers switching out their single use straws for reusable ones, the amount of materials spent in production increases. Manufacturers of these products must ensure that the production process does not produce residual waste that requires excessive effort to manage. If production of reusable straws does increase pollution, the environmental efforts of consumers might become counterproductive. I am concerned as there are no impact studies on production processes for reusable straws for me to consider if I made an environmentally conscious decision.
The next is about businesses profits and consumer health. Will companies sell products that are so durable that consumers only need one of them? Manufacturers and retailers might choose less durable materials, so that consumers buy more replacements when straws become worn out. With consumers and retailers placing emphasis on lower prices, production for lowest price might also include unfair wages for workers and unsafe working environments when producing reusable straws. Moreover, if manufacturers produce using cheap nonfood grade materials, prolonged usage might lead to corrosion and liquids passing through could result in chemical reactions. All of this would be ingested by users and might damage their health.
The last unintended consequence is about neglecting proper waste management. Many people are focused on reducing plastic usage and finding alternatives, but not finding better ways to manage waste that already exists. Reducing plastic waste has been a rising movement with environmentalists raising awareness through social media and introducing alternatives, but it does not address how the world currently manages its unrecycled waste. Countries are exporting their plastic waste to others for repurposing without considering the overall pollution that occurs from shipping, and the environmental pollution in countries where recycled plastic is processed. Just because the waste is out of sight, that does not mean that it becomes another country’s problem. Some countries are also unable to manage their landfills and waste collection effectively to keep their waste from polluting the natural environment. Reducing waste can help reduce the effects of pollution on the environment, but we also need to put more effort in managing the waste we have now.
In my opinion, the issue of eliminating single-use straws will contribute towards environmental betterment, but we also need to effectively manage existing waste/pollution and the harmful effects it has on marine life. I also feel that more research is required to understand how reusable straws might impact the environment, covering from manufacturing process (eg. Materials, Packaging, Transportation) up to the end user. What happens when these straws reached the end of their cycle? How will these wastes be managed?
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