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The Pernicious Problem With Plastic

By Sammy Stahl

Ever-present and sinister, plastic lurks in every second of the life of every man, woman, and child on Earth. In fact, every single speck of plastic that has been created is nowhere near beginning to decompose; the first plastic was made in 1907, and it takes at least 450 years to begin to break down. Even so, many plastics simply shrink to sizes unable to be seen by the human eye. Thus brings about the case in point...why do we continue to produce it? The overwhelming excuse for single-use plastics such as straws is the convenience factor; consumers couldn’t imagine another way, or even an alternative that could be slightly irksome. All plastics end up being harmful to the environment, but single-use plastics especially should be banned for their debilitating effects on the environment and its inhabitants, including humans.

The harmful effects of plastics can be seen in both animals and humans. A shocking statistic estimates that by 2050, “...there will be more plastic in the ocean by weight than fish” (“Adrian Grenier Asks”). For a substance invented a little over 100 years ago, it has infiltrated Earth frighteningly quickly. With that many foreign items in the ocean, marine health is doomed to decline. Fish, turtles, and the like wash up on shore constantly, only to be autopsied by scientists and found with digestive systems packed with plastic pieces. Millions of fish and mammals every year are killed by this plastic pollution. Videos surface of sea turtles seeming to weep as plastic straws are wrestled from their nostrils in a bloody display of plastic pollution. These animals are being killed by humans and human action - plastics are completely unnatural. In addition to the well being of marine life, the very ecosystem is being poisoned. Ocean gyres sweep plastic into huge coagulations, one of which being aptly named the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It sits and grows off the coast of California, with the recent estimate of its size being twice the size of Texas. Even scarier and hopefully hitting closer to home with skeptics is the relationship between plastics and humans. Biological magnification is an environmental concept that involves an increasing concentration of a substance as it works up the food chain. Imagine, if you will, a tiny, free-floating plankton off the coast of Massachusetts. It accidentally swallows a piece of plastic. Many of the same plankton are unknowingly eating the same thing, until a predator such as a small fish consumes all of them and their toxins. A larger fish, perhaps a famous Cape Cod cod, will then eat the small fish. Landing on a plate in an Enterprise Fish Co. is that cod, waiting to be sautéed and eaten by an unsuspecting human. At this point, the toxicity concentration of the plastic is at its peak, and was just consumed by a human being. The synthetic stuff takes residence in the body, accumulating over a lifetime.

Following a push for the plastic bag ban (seen to the full extent in all local supermarkets), the next target seems to be plastic straws. Consider this: Americans alone, “...use half a billion straws every day...that many straws could wrap around the Earth 2 1/2 times” (Fears). Pulled from the pockets of servers all over, this invention seems to have no use other than utter human laziness. Is it far too uncouth to hold a drinking glass rather than use a straw? Plain logic and common sense would suggest getting rid of them or introducing a sustainable option, but there continues to be an opposing side. These people argue for the continuation of the plastic straw - for political reasons: “It's not government's provenance to ban anything that's safe and legal including straws” (Williams). The age-old pissing match between government and citizen grows weak when seen in the context of the environment. Is it worth it to quibble over superiority when the Earth is at stake? After all, “It's a convenience people seem to use arbitrarily” (Fears). Rarely do diners ask for a straw when not given one. Not even all drinks “require” a straw in the unwritten Straw Code. It’s an observation straight out of a theoretical Seinfeld routine: “Have you noticed that we only drink certain drinks with a straw? Why sip a margarita but chug a beer? Suck on a lemonade but burn our tongues on hot coffee? Makes you think…” The seemingly simple solution, then, to quell even the most die-hard straw fans, would be a request-only policy. With this, straw users could request their utensil and use it, while those who don’t mind the minute inconvenience and would rather save the environment can opt out. Many institutions are implementing this change, “Restaurants in San Diego; Huntington Beach, Calif.; Asbury Park, N.J.; New York; Miami; Bradenton, Fla.; London; and British Columbia have pledged to ban straws or withhold them until patrons ask for them” (Fears). This positive change can have a ripple effect as consumers continue to refuse the straw at other stores.

Fortunately, there are many organizations to join and actions to take to get involved with the cause. Organizations such as Heal the Bay hold beach cleanups to clear the coastline. Even more effective is the prevention of such pollution in the first place, starting with testimonials from A list celebrities such as Entourage’s Adrian Grenier. They encourage normal folk to “Stop Sucking” with the admittance and denouncing of their own and each other’s, for lack of a better word, suckage. Furthermore, “The Plastic Pollution Coalition estimates that 1,800 ‘restaurants, organizations, institutions and schools worldwide have gotten rid of plastic straws or implemented a serve-straws-upon-request policy’" (Fears). This is largely due to a growing awareness of the issue - people realizing that the error of their ways could be so easily fixed by a simple “No thank you.” Classier still and an excellent conversation piece is a reusable straw, if necessary. They come in stainless steel, paper, even bamboo, and will solve any straw fix one might have. It’s easy to engage in the Straw Wars - it’s been named “the ultimate 'slacktivist' movement” (Williams), a portmanteau derived from “slacker” and “activist.”

The average person may not realize the effect their single-use plastic can have on the world. These items are accumulating rapidly in our oceans, and will continue to if something is not done on a massive scale. The environment is desperate for our help, and it is our responsibility to clean up the mess we have made. We depend on Earth for our well being, and cannot let our planet deteriorate - at the very least for our own safety. Banning single-use plastics is the easiest way to start a permanent change for the better in terms of our relationship with Mother Nature

Works Cited

"Adrian Grenier Asks You To #StopSucking On Plastic Straws In New Social Media Challenge." PR Newswire, 8 Aug. 2017. Student Resources in Context, link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A500094789/SUIC?u=paci91811&xid=10474d34. Accessed 6 Nov. 2017.

Fears, Darryl. "A campaign to eliminate plastic straws is sucking in thousands of converts." Washingtonpost.com, 24 June 2017. Student Resources in Context, link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A496706624/SUIC?u=paci91811&xid=e40025b8. Accessed 6 Nov. 2017.

Williams, Lauren. "Straw wars? The next target for a plastics ban is your sippy cup." Orange County Register [Santa Ana, CA], 16 Mar. 2017. Student Resources in Context, link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A485623905/SUIC?u=paci91811&xid=22cd5699. Accessed 6 Nov. 2017.