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SAVE THE STRAW: Convenient and hygienic – ditching plastic straws isn’t the best way to help the environment.

No straws = no jobs for folks at Fuling Plastics in Upper Macungie Township. (File photo by Brian Pedersen)
No straws = no jobs for folks at Fuling Plastics in Upper Macungie Township. (File photo by Brian Pedersen)

Lately, the humble straw has gotten a bad rap.

And no, I don’t mean those paper wraps that always get wet and stick to the straw and fall into your drink. I mean the current up-swell in support for banning disposable plastic straws.

I am torn.

I’ve always considered myself to be environmentally conscious. My husband calls me his “little tree hugger,” but I also love straws.

A brightly colored straw popping out of your soft drink is one of the simpler pleasures in life, and it sure makes it easier to drink your beverage.

But now people are calling to get rid of them. It’s the “in thing” to bash straws as wasteful destroyers of sea turtles.

A lot of people are jumping on the bandwagon and a lot of companies are listening.

Among them is Starbucks, which recently announced it would stop using the plastic straws in its beverages by 2020.

But while wanting to save the environment and reduce the use of disposable plastics is a noble cause, I think the movement misses the mark by failing to make a significant impact and by not considering those who use and sometimes need straws or what people will do without them.

NOT THE REAL PROBLEM

For Starbucks, it’s great that you’re getting rid of plastic straws. What about the plastic cups and lids? The straw is probably the smallest amount of plastic in the container of one of its to-go frappuccinos.

Blaming the straw for pollution is taking away the blame from bigger consumers of plastic. Surely companies that sell to-go beverages can used waxed paper cups and lids made of a recyclable composite and still reduce waste while leaving alone the convenient, helpful and hygienic straw.

GOOD USES

Yes, straws are a significant modern convenience, but one that we have apparently taken for granted. They keep our nose out of our drink, act as a stir and make it much less likely to spill a drink because you don’t have to tip it as far to drink.

In fact, I’m drinking my afternoon cherry Pepsi out of a straw as I type this. Haven’t spilled a drop on my keyboard – and I’m clumsy.

But straws aren’t just the friend of the accident-prone. For the elderly and many people with disabilities, they are a necessity.

A TRUE NEED

The humble straw helps people with mobility issues reach their drinks and can save people with some conditions from choking. Many disability advocates have come out in opposition to the straw ban.

Plus, there’s the hygiene issue. A straw keeps your lips off a soda can that may have been stacked in God knows what kind of conditions. I’ve seen the dirt on some cans. I wasn’t going to put my mouth on them.

What about in bars and restaurants where you’re drinking out a reusable glass? Straws keep your lips from drinking out of the same spot a couple dozen other people probably drank out of earlier in the day.

Sure the restaurants and bars wash glasses. But if you’ve ever found a lipstick stain on your cocktail glass, you know that isn’t always as effective as you might like.

A lot of ban supporters say “bring your own straw.”

BYO – NO.

That’s nice. I’ll just bring the straw in my purse. That’s great.

Have you seen the inside of a woman’s purse?!?

It’s a filthy place full of money and makeup and half-used tissues. Except for maybe a well-wrapped mint, nothing is going from my purse into my mouth.

And what about men? Are they supposed to carry a straw in their back pocket all day just in case they decide they want a soda? That doesn’t sound comfortable or hygienic.

Yes, you can get collapsible straws, which in my mind just provide little nooks and crannies for bacteria to hide.

Some places, like college campuses, have switched to paper straws in response to calls for plastic straw bans, but I’ve seen a number of social media posts from people at those institutions who say paper straws aren’t doing the trick, are melting too quickly and changing the taste of a beverage.

That being said. I agree we can reduce straw waste. If you’re at a restaurant and order a second soda, take the straw out of your first drink and use it again for the second one. I always do this.

In my home, when I use a straw, I wash it thoroughly and use it again. I dispose of it after a couple of uses.

SOME EXCEPTIONS

And yes, some places are better off without plastic straws.

Many beach resorts no longer use them because too many drunk jerks take their drinks into the ocean and leave their cans, cups and straws in the surf.

I know, I’ve spent a couple of vacations fishing them out of the waves and grumbling about what pigs people can be.

But for a non-oceanfront community, a ban is excessive.

Instead of jumping on the bandwagon of blaming straws, let’s come up with straws that are easier to recycle and encourage more common-sense ways of conservation that don’t hurt people with handicaps or encourage mouth infections.

STRAWS MEAN LOCAL JOBS

And if you want a good business reason for supporting the straw, remember many of the disposable straws used at fast food restaurants in the U.S. are made right here in the Lehigh Valley.

Fuling Global Inc., a Chinese plastics manufacturer, opened a straw-making plant in Upper Macungie Township in 2015.

It has about 60 employees making those straws that people want to ban. If the straws go, it’s putting a bunch of your neighbors out of work.

So don’t stop trying to save the environment, just save the straw, too.

 

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