The general public’s awareness of the world environmental crisis is increasing every day – and that is a step in a positive direction. As people become more aware of the effects of human behavior and of our use of plastic and out of control waste production, they are seeking ways to make a positive change. Reducing the production of plastic waste is one of the items that frequently comes up on environmental “to do” lists. And one of the primary targets for reducing the use of plastic is the elimination of plastic straws. While less plastic straw use is a wonderful start on the road to decreasing our negative impact on the environment, it’s important that we go far beyond simply plastic straw-shaming and look at the deeper issues.
Plastic straws and throwaway containers are simply the symptoms of a larger problem in society. This problem is the feeling that resources are limitless, and that there is enough room for every bit of trash that we can manage to produce. It’s also a product of the assumption that humans are entitled to more of the world than other creatures and that things should revolve around human comfort.
These are harmful attitudes that are not going to be solved simply by forcing people to use paper straws instead of plastic. In order to reduce our environmental impact, we must bring about a basic change in the way that products are packaged and sold and the way that we regard our place in the world.
One example of this is the microcosm of a college campus. Here you will find frequent environmental demonstrations and students trying to get plastic eliminated from cafeterias. While these are very worthwhile goals, at the same time you will go across campus and notice that there is trash all along the side of the street. Cigarette butts are a common form of litter that many students don’t think anything at all of dumping on the ground. And what about the copious use of plastic cups at college parties?
But even beyond the issue of plastic consumption, college students – and all of us – should also take a look at the other lifestyle choices being made each day. For example, decreasing the amount of meat and dairy one consumes has more of an impact on reducing carbon emissions than just about any other single action. And what forms of transportation are being used every day? College campuses are traditionally very walkable areas, yet there are still an abundance of cars and – on many campuses – a distinct lack of dependable public transportation services.
No one is suggesting that people should stop campaigning to decrease plastic straw usage in favour of paper straws. Rather, that this should be a part of a larger concerted effort in which one considers other lifestyle choices as well as participating in political actions that support the use of renewable resources, the decreased consumption of meat and tighter environmental laws, among other issues.
Plastic straw-shaming is not going to change the world. But the energy that has been put into it can be channeled to other environmental issues where it can be harnessed to create more concern about the world we all live in and advocate for changes.