John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Environmentalists have kicked off a campaign called "Straw Wars" to rid London's Soho district of drinking straws.
Is there any better symbol of fast-food culture's extravagance than the disposable straw?
Unlike plastic bags or utensils, which harm the environment while actually serving a useful purpose, drinking straws have no reason to exist other than to provide a crumb of luxury to a paying customer.* Nobody will suffer unduly if these plastic tubes are removed from their mouths; in fact, that would only streamline the traditional drinking method of lips-meet-liquid. Not to mention that they don't make drinking much easier. When used to suck soda, they add an undesirable amount of fizziness to the brew; try to stir coffee with them, and you might as well be using toothpicks.
There's also the fact that most of us got over straws after our seventh birthday parties. Ice-cream cake is still cool, for sure, but slurping beverages through a bendy straw makes you look like a giant baby.
So with that said, here's some news that doesn't suck. Environmentalists have kicked off a campaign called "Straw Wars" to rid London's Soho district of drinking straws. Businesses that sign up to the effort promise not to give out straws to customers unless they're requested; so far, 31 bars and clubs have joined the anti-straw crusade.
That might not seem like a lot, but at least it's a move in the right direction. Plastic straws are the viruses of garbage, tiny and lightweight enough to slip through the cracks of the waste-recycling process and into the pelagic ecosystem. Floating through rivers and sewers into the sea, straws join up with immense spiraling plastic garbage patches that choke hundreds of thousands of sea birds and turtles every year.
The sheer amount of tossed-out strawage is amazing. The organizers of Straw Wars calculate that McDonald's alone pumps 3.5 million straws into the environment every day, based on the number of drinks they serve. And that's only in the U.K. With that towering mound of plastic, thrifty Ugandans could fill several warehouses full of recycled-straw bags and dresses.
This isn't the first time environmentalists have tried to rein in the tubular accessory. Earlier this year, Miami Beach banned hotels from giving out straws because they always seemed to wind up littering beaches. Given the wave of plastic-bag bans sweeping across America, it's also likely this won't be the last effort to stop straws. So if you can't live with enjoying your drink straight from the glass, perhaps it's time to invest in one of these stainless-steel numbers.