Are Plastic Straws Really A Problem?

Don’t get me wrong. Plastic straws and the damage they do to sea turtles is problematic and real, but the momentum the issue caught online is a little out of proportion.

Any positive change that is made, even if it is the smallest one is valuable and I cherish those of you who have taken this difficult matter to heart. However, you should know that what you are hearing about straws is such a small percentage of the overall problem of plastic waste in our oceans. It is just the tiniest tip of the proverbial iceberg.

If the oceans and sea turtles are what worries you, let me blow your mind. Only 0.03% of the plastic waste comes from drinking straws, while 46% is coming from discarded or lost fishing nets (also called “ghost nets”).

Did you know that? If not, it’s my job to let you know, that’s why I’m here. The size of the media buzz around the “straw problem” surprised me. Pressure is being exerted on restaurant owners, bars, resorts and manufacturers to replace plastic straws with paper straws or no-straw lids in the thought (on the part of the customers = we) that taking this action will reduce marine waste.

While glad to see awareness and caring rising, I wondered why the facts about fishing nets comprising such a high percentage of the oceans’ plastic waste problem was not heard online. The reason is simple: quitting straws is easy. Instagram culture makes the job simple and fun. It suddenly becomes chic and trendy to post a picture with a reusable straw, right? 

People will cheer you if you upload such a picture. Talking about dietary change and suggesting that we reduce our seafood consumption is more difficult and less cute.

It makes people subject to criticism from others (high five to vegans who have to deal with this every day), it causes a person to have to adapt to a new menu, to give up foods he or she likes and change their lifestyle. It causes effort.

We are 7.7 billion people in the world, and in relation to avoiding plastic straws, I repeat what I said first – a positive change, even if it is small, is valuable to me. But know the facts, their percentage of the overall problem, and their real impact on the environment.

I don’t consume fish at all. It’s something I do for the environment. But if it’s too big for you, just think: What can I do? Maybe just reducing consumption is a viable option for you? Maybe eat fish only on weekends? Helping address the problem isn’t a zero sum game. It’s not “If I can’t do everything then I may as well bury my head in the sand and do nothing”. Every little bit helps. We need everyone to do their part, whatever they feel that part can be to affect a positive change.

In any case, if you want to be cool, by all means please do stop using single-use plastic straws. If you want your actions to have a real, big impact on the ocean and on those who live in it, reduce seafood consumption.

(Photos: Joan Chan + National Geographic)

EDITOR’S NOTE: Lee Snir is one of the founding partners of Legendary Life and is the original author of these blog posts. Lee is an active environmental advocate and in-demand speaker, writer and influencer in her native Israel. These blog posts were originally published in her native Hebrew in her personal blog titled, “Elita Yeruka” (“Green Elite” in English.)

When we translated Lee’s blogs for Legendary Life our goal was to only edit for grammar and clarity but to retain “Lee’s voice”. Thus the editorial choices were to err on the side of not “Americanizing” the language and thus leaving the translated blog as close as possible to the original. Therefore, native English speakers may occasionally find the word choices and phrasing a little different than they are used to.

For those of you who are Hebrew speakers and wish to read the blogs in their original form and follow Lee’s Personal blog you can do so here:

DISCLAIMER: Any statements, opinions or conclusions contained herein are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the statements, opinions or conclusions of Legendary Life (a Legendary Products, LLC brand), its owners, employees, contractors, affiliates, partners or advertisers.