Forgetting your metal straws can be a hassle and with no choice left, you reach for the plastic straw. Photo by Katy Nguyen.
Fountain Valley High School

Opinion: Metal straws don’t make a difference

Pollution sucks, which is why the hype over metal straws has exploded all over the internet. As you scroll down your Instagram feed, you’ll find a video of a girl using her metal straw to save the turtles. But using a metal straw doesn’t really make a difference for the environment.

Metal straws take the place of plastic straws, which are made with the worst form of plastic: single-use plastic. Single-use plastics have a short lifespan and are usually used once before being disposed of. They are also non-biodegradable and take years to break down — years that we don’t have.

So why are plastic straws bad?

Over time, the plastic separates into small pieces. It ends up in our oceans and into the bodies of animals that live in them, like turtles. Plastic straws also contain BPA, an industrial chemical to make plastic and resin, and cannot be recycled. Plastic straws are, in fact, in the top items picked up on beach clean-ups. On an average day in the United States, over 500 million plastic straws are used.

According to popular culture, metal straws are the solution to this plastic problem along with other alternatives such as glass, titanium and bamboo. When you buy a metal straw, you aren’t just saving the life of a turtle; over 700 species of marine life have consumed some plastic but when you look at the ocean, it seems impossible — there’s no trash on the ocean’s surface. With between 4.8 and 12.7 million metric tons going in…[only] 6,350 and 245,000 metric tons [float] on the ocean’s surface.

Stainless steel has its pros, it’s 100% recyclable because it’s not coated with any toxic materials. According to South African Stainless Steel Development Association, stainless steel is made up of 70% recycled scrap metals and technology has allowed the manufacturing process to use less energy. It seems to be a much better alternative to plastic straws, which release toxic greenhouse gases that harm our environment.

But here’s the problem: out of the millions of tons of plastic going into the ocean, straws comprise 0.025% of that. We are hypocrites.

Buy a straw and you “save” a turtle’s life but what about the plastic cup that holds your drink, the plastic shampoo bottle in your bathroom or plastic spoon you use to eat? And do people actually use their reusable straws or are they just for a TikTok to get some likes?

There are more effective ways that you can limit your carbon footprint, including using reusable bags instead of plastic bags when shopping, properly disposing of your trash or having other means of transportation like biking or carpooling. Even though these alternatives may seem expensive and accessible, it will be beneficial for everyone and our Earth in the long run.

Ultimately, the best way is to try to avoid single-use plastic and use your own reusable containers and bags whenever possible. This might also seem tedious and too expensive to invest in at first, but look at it this way: it’s a huge money saver because you don’t need to pay for single-use plastic which adds up over and over and over again.

Although buying a reusable straw makes a small difference, there is still so much plastic that goes into our oceans and it’s time we start doing something about it. So, don’t just stop at buying a metal straw and think that you are solving the problem when it’s so much bigger than that.

It’s not much, but metal straws are a good start!