Giving up the plastic straw? Great. Don't stop there. While bans on plastic straws are helpful, they often make life difficult for disabled folks. What can work is considering how much plastic we use, thinking about ways to cut down waste, and acknowledging our addiction to plastic. Our guest blogger Mika Doyle digs into the problems presented by small, single use plastics (like straws...and tampon applicators).
If you’re just one person out of the billions of people on this planet, would it really make that big of a difference to the environment if you switched to reusable menstrual products?
Well, let’s look at something that seems even less significant than pads and tampons: plastic drinking straws.
This year, environmental groups are working to completely halt the use of disposable plastic straws, and they’ve succeeded to get lawmakers and restaurant chains in both the U.S. and the U.K. on board. Why? According to USA Today, Inc., and StrawFree.org, the stats on plastic pollution are downright alarming:
- An estimated 800 metric tons of plastics pollute the oceans every year
- More than a quarter of all fish now contain plastic (poor fish!)
- By 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish
- 83 percent of the world’s tap water contains plastic microfibers
- Water sold in plastic water bottles contain even more plastic microfibers than tap water (eek!)
And plastic drinking straws are a major contributor to the problem. In the U.S. alone, more than 5 million plastic straws are thrown away every day. That’s 175 billion per year. Although plastic straws are technically recyclable, they are so light-weight that they typically get missed by the sorting machines, and it takes 500 hundred years for a single straw to decompose. During that time, those plastic straws can leak pollutants into the soil and water and break into microplastics that animals confuse as food. Plastic straws can be essential for disabled folks. However, using plastic that you don't need is toxic to the earth.
Saying No to Plastic Straws
The movement to ban plastic straws is growing across the U.S. and Canada. According to NBC News, lawmakers have already passed ordinances to limit or prohibit restaurants from using plastic straws in several cities across California, Florida and in Seattle. Fort Myers Beach, Fla., has banned the commercial use of plastic straws, and Malibu, Calif., is adding a ban in June on plastic straws, stirrers and cutlery to its ban on the commercial use of plastic shopping bags and polystyrene food containers.
And fast food behemoth McDonald’s is making a major move by replacing plastic straws with environmentally friendly paper straws in all 1,361 U.K. and Ireland locations starting in September. The chain says its U.S., France and Norway locations will follow soon, but there are no specific details as to when that’s going to happen. Their decision to get eco-friendly is on the heels of other fast food chains in the U.K. like JD Wetherspoon, Burger King and Costa Coffee, who all stopped using plastic straws in the past year.
The movement has even reached my hometown of Rockford, Ill., a small city located 90 minutes outside of Chicago. When I sat down to eat at Baker Street Burger, one of my favorite burger restaurants, I noticed they switched to paper straws. They weren’t the most comfortable to drink out of because they did start to get a bit soft and mushy the more I drank out of them, but the gesture was appreciated.
The Plastic Pollution of Reusable Menstrual Products
If skinny little plastic straws cause so much damage to the environment, how much damage do plastic tampon applicators and disposable pads do?
The environmental impact of disposable menstrual products doesn’t start when we throw them away; it starts when they’re made. The Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm found that the largest global warming impact is caused by the processing of the plastics in the tampon applicators and the plastic back-strips in pads. That means when companies are making pads and tampons, they’re producing a heavy carbon footprint that contributes to the global warming problem.
Then those disposable menstrual products land in our hands, we use them, and then we throw them away. When more than 50 percent of the world’s population menstruates, that means an average person uses around 11,000 tampons in their lifetime. In North America alone, nearly 20 billion pads, tampons and applicators are dumped into landfills every year.
If you were alarmed by the damage those little plastic straws are doing to the environment, imagine the damage the plastics in those 20 billion menstrual products are doing.
So I ask again: can one person really make that big of a difference for the environment by switching to reusable menstrual products? If a skinny little straw makes a difference, your menstrual products can make a major impact.