Should the United States Declare War on Plastic Straws?

Months after London restaurateurs launch campaign against unnecessary plastic drinking straws, the question remains: why hasn’t America joined the fight?
(Photo: PJ Taylor / Getty Images)
May 14, 2012· 1 MIN READ
Salvatore Cardoni holds a political science degree from the George Washington University. He's written about all things environment since 2007.

If ever an environmental campaign embodied the motto, “Keep It Simple, Stupid,” its gotta be this one, right?

A handful of eco-minded citizens have banded together to rid all the restaurants, bars, and hotels in Soho, a section of central London, of straws.

They’re calling it: Straw Wars.

The idea is crazy simple—restaurants either get rid of straws completely or provide a straw only when requested by a customer. If they want one, all they have to do is ask. It’s that easy.

Plastic is a huge problem for our marine wildlife and makes up over 60 percent of all the litter we find on U.K. beaches, particularly single use plastic such as bags. Plastic straws make up a small proportion of all this litter, but if everyone took responsibility to dispose of their litter correctly in the first place it would help massively,” said Emma Snowden, litter campaigns officer with the Marine Conservation Society.

To date, 29 restaurants have signed up for the program.

This may seam like low-hanging fruit here, folks—but fruit it is nevertheless.

The campaign makes the case for recycling the oft-forgotten plastic accessories:

Plastic straws can, theoretically, be recycled but they rarely are. Many are thrown away by people eating fast food as they walk along the street. Since plastics don't degrade, they last for ages.

According to Simply Straws, more than 500 million disposable plastic straws are used in the United States every day and would fill more than 127 school buses daily, or more than 46,400 school bus loads per year.

Listen up: we’re well aware that the U.S. has far bigger eco-fish to fry (coal and hydraulic fracking, to name just two), but can’t we adopt this campaign en masse as well?

An obvious place to start would be fast-food joints.

According to a 2009 report, American McDonald’s serve about 60 million customers per year.

For argument’s sake, say only half of these customers order a drink. And say only half of those folks take or request a straw.

Isn’t 15 million straws worth the effort to bring the fight in Soho across the pond to America—perhaps even as a middle-school or high-school project? Teachers, are you listening? Hello?

Should the United States declare war on straws? Dissect and discuss in the comments?