Do you enjoy sipping drinks through plastic straws? Well, if activists get their way you won’t be allowed to anymore. “These must be banned,” they say.
When celebrities speak, politicians listen. Seattle recently banned straws, and other places want to do the same. “The idea that you’re going to ban straws and save the world is ridiculous.” Angela Logomasini studies environmental issues at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. What will banning plastic straws accomplish? “Probably nothing at all. It might make some people in Hollywood feel good. It may make some politicians feel good, like they’re doing something. It might sound good at parties, but it’s not going to solve any problems.”
Plastic pollution in the ocean is a real problem, but only about 1% of it comes from the United States. Of that 1%, a tiny amount comes from plastic straws. But what about that 500 million number? Where do they all get that number? They got it from this child’s school project. He says he got the 500 million straws a day figure through a phone survey he conducted with straw manufacturers. The media just accepts his 500 million number. But the actual number is much lower according to the analysis firm Technomic.
Okay, so activists and media exaggerate the problem. Still they promised it would be easy to get rid of the straws. “If we can reduce something that is easy, that is polluting in the environment, that is getting stuck in turtles’ noses and causing damage to the environment, let’s do that,” says progressive talk show host Ethan Bearman. “Sometimes we do need a little gentle guiding hand from government.” Governments gentle guiding hand will either ban straws or order us to replace this cheap plastic straw with ones like these made of paper or bamboo. “Plastic doesn’t actually biodegrade. So unlike a lot of other things, paper, for example, actually breaks down into other components.”
That’s not a good thing. That means paper straws break down, even while you’re using them. They get soggy, they leak. “That’s the beauty of plastic, it’s enduring,” says Logomasini, “Paper straws are going to break down while you’re drinking with it.” Paper and bamboo straws aren’t environmentally pristine either. Paper products take more energy and more effort to produce. You’re going to have a net negative environmental impact. The paper doesn’t degrade in a landfill either. Everything is essentially mummified. You’re replacing a superior product with an inferior one and you’re asking people to pay more for it. It doesn’t make a lot of sense,” she says.
It doesn’t, and the higher price is the final result. Paper straws are eight times more expensive to make than plastic straws. Won’t this hurt businesses? “I don’t think so. Maybe people won’t use straws,” claims New York City Councilman Barry Grodenchik. “If it’s a $1.79 to get the fountain drink at Joe’s corner deli that we’re talking about, and now it’s a $1.83, I don’t see that as being a huge difference in the price,” says Bearman.
“This is what environmentalists will say about every policy they put out. A few cents here, a few cents there eventually begins to become a burden,” explains Logomasini. We don’t need straws. “You know a lot of things in life are not necessary, but beneficial and enjoyable. Banning straws isn’t going to do anything for the environment. So what they’re just trying to do is take away my freedom for nothing in return.”
As the environment has become cleaner, that’s become a specialty of the environmental movement: spend your money on feel-good policies that make no real difference.