We can make a difference in using plastic

Plastic straws — and plastics in general — that are not properly disposed of are a major environmental problem. It has been estimated that for the United States alone, we use up to 500 million drinking straws a day. That is enough to circle the Earth two and a half times. Worldwide, some scientists believe there could be 437 million to 8.3 billion plastic straws on coastlines. Plastic straws are among the most common item found in ocean trash cleanup efforts.

Plastic straws end up in the ocean primarily through: human error — they’re left on beaches in coastal communities and seaside resorts globally; they’re blown out of trash cans; and littering.

Incredibly, by the year 2050, a World Economic Forum study foung that there could be more plastic in the ocean than fish because for every pound of tuna we’re taking out of the ocean, we’re putting two pounds of plastic into it. Of course, plastic straws aren’t the only form of plastic in the ocean. Plastic bags, single-use plastics such as water bottles, and other forms of plastic also contribute to the problem.

When plastic items make it into the ocean, they eventually break down into very small pieces known as “microplastics,” which pose a serious threat to marine life. Plastic straws, along with other forms of plastic, are often mistaken as food by sea creatures and if it is consumed, can lead to suffocation and death. It is projected that by 2050, 99 percent of all sea bird species will have ingested plastic. Mortality rate can be up to 50 percent.

Most plastic straws are made from polypropylene. However, while polypropylene can be recycled, it is often not accepted by curbside recycling programs. Also, because plastic straws are very light and small, they often don’t make it effectively through various plastic sorting machines, and may contaminate recycling loads, or end up in garbage. Compostable plastic straws may be no better than regular ones when they get into the marine environment. They are designed to break down in compost facility conditions, not sea water.

We all can do our part in solving — or at least reducing — the plastic pollution problem by recycling plastic materials; not using plastic straws and choosing paper or reusable straws; and not littering.

Jerry L. Coalgate

Williamsburg

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