You’ve just got your metal straws. You got it because your colleagues at work haven’t stop raving about this trendy new method to reduce plastic waste. Thinking that adopting this new habit and staple in the eco-friendly living starter pack might be a good idea, you search for the easiest way to get your metal straws on the world wide web. Keying your credit card information and then hitting order on the free shipping internet store, you have just unwittingly contributed to 2.8 billion pounds of toxic waste from mining metal, 20% of marine litter from international shipping and over 2 million tonnes of waste from packaging. Metal straws do not seem to make us as environmentally friendly as we thought, but before you freak out about what you should do with your new purchase just yet, we can still be as environmentally friendly as we have set out to be if we just keep a few things in mind.
With places like KFC recently terminating its provision of plastic caps and straws for its drinks, it is no wonder that the appeal of metal straws have been more alluring than ever. A recent The Straits Times news article reported that 1.76 billion plastic are used in Singapore yearly, but fewer than 20 per cent of these are recycled. To combat the impending prevalence of plastic waste, metal straws have been advertised to be a good alternative to the disposable plastic straw, touting on its reusability. However, just like any other product made from natural or anthropogenic resources, metal straws come at an environmental cost. While little research has been done about the positive impacts of making the switch to metal straws, much has been looked into about the environmental repercussions of reusable shopping bags, which is similarly advocated for its ability to be used more than once.
We all know that a way to cut down the waste of plastic bags is to opt for ones that we can use on multiple occasions. Doing this saves $250,000 in disposable costs and 1000 plastic bags per reusable bag. However, more often than not, people do not realise that they have to use the green bag at least 104 times to make a difference to the environment. These bags take up more material and energy to produce than standard single-use plastic bags. A 2009 study discovered that if reusable bags were only used 52 times, the harmful impacts on the environment are so much greater than that of single-use bags. Just as green bags are used as a reusable alternative to plastic bags, metal straws and other non-disposable items are adopted as a more sustainable options to single-use plastic products. Keeping in mind the adverse effects these ‘greener’ options might have on the environment, it does seem that our pro-environmental initiative may not be as beneficial as we thought, especially when we do not continue to use the item incessantly.
Going eco-friendly is not as simple as it seems. Minimizing the environmental footprint is dependent on an array of things. From how any item is being generated, manufactured and delivered, the overall benefits from using a material over the other seem to be under a never ending list of deliberation and comparison. Regardless, this should not mean that we should still continue our unsustainable ways of using disposable items that pollute the air and threaten wild and marine life. We just have to be mindful about how our habits affect the earth and try our best to make sure that our intentions are in line with the way we consume and use environmentally friendly products.
The damage that comes with plastic or waste results from any other material is largely dependent on us and how we incorporate them into our lives. We can save on purchasing green bags and bring used plastic bags to supermarket the next time we go grocery shopping. We can choose to drink straight from the cup instead of using any type of straw to consume our drinks. There is no one item that is absolutely more sustainable than the other. Most items leave a carbon footprint and hamper our ecosystem in one way or another anyway. Perhaps, it is not the materials we use that make us eco-friendly, but rather, it’s how we use them. It’s our sustainable behavior that counts and not how many environmentally-safe products we own. Now that’s something to think about.