Your Metal Straw Won't Save the Environment
Author: Katie Runk
Published: May 2, 2022
In recent years, plastic straws have become the face of pollution and climate change. Countless ads and company campaigns encourage us all to go out buy a hoard of metal straws. That way, we’ll be doing everything we can to save the planet! We can finally throw away that plastic straw we’re given with our drink and smugly sip our Starbucks latte with a plastic-packaged stain-less steel straw we ordered from Amazon that was shipped halfway across the world and driven to our doorstep with a gad-fueled vehicle.
But, doesn’t something seem a little off about that?
I mean, when you think about it, there’s a lot of energy and material that goes into the material-mining, manufacturing, packaging, shipping, and inevitable disposal of all these millions of metal straws being flooded into the market. Unfortunately, in the scheme of things, plastic straws are barely a drop in the bucket of plastic pollution. I’m not saying that a plastic straw is less environmentally destructive, or that using a metal straw is foolish or completely worthless, but I am trying to point out that we might be heading in the wrong direction in our effort to fight climate change.
The basic cornerstone of environmental destruction is overconsumption. So, does it really make sense to believe that manufacturing and consuming new “eco-friendly” products will contribute to conservation? Metal straws are just an example of the products corporations have discovered will appeal to the new “woke” population. I know that capitalism has been thrown around as the climate-change-bogyman for decades, but it really is the root of all these issues. Capitalism suggests that are global markets can grow infinitely, but on a planet with finite resources, this philosophy poses huge problems. The idea of “green growth” is misleading because it is the economic growth itself that is destroying our planet, so the nature of that growth is irrelevant.
Many environmentally-mindful clubs and organizations at Susquehanna University engage in fundraising through the selling of goods, which often include products such as metal straws, reusable cutlery, tupperware, and tote-bags. This practice is a double-edged sword. While it spreads awareness about the existence of eco-friendly alternatives, it also contributes to the overflowing pool of products drowning our planet with “stuff.” I am not demonizing any person or club participating in this practice. I just want to point out an interesting example of this paradox that is closely relevant to our lives at SU.
So...what can we actually do to be better advocates of the environment?
An essential concept of being environmentally friendly is to simply CONSUME LESS. No, this doesn’t mean to literally eat less food. It means learning to differentiate your needs from your wants and to adjust your purchasing habits based on this revised self-reflection. Do you need the new iPhone, that fifteenth pair of shoes, or that deluxe Keurig machine to replace the perfectly functional one you already have? I’ll give you a hint: no.
A good rule of thumb is this: if what you already have serves it’s purpose, you don’t need a new one.
So, when we do buy something, how can we do that responsibly? We should make an attempt to look for products that are locally-made, sustainably sourced, long-lasting, or second-hand. Make an effort to do your research and think critically about the choices you make. Those new “eco-friendly” bags, cutlery sets, and water-bottles can very easily be found at a nearby thrift store for a fraction of the cost. Of course, not everything can be bought second-hand (you’d have to hold me at gunpoint to wear thrifted underwear), but a lot of things can be.
You could also very often realize that you already have the products you’ve been told you need to buy eco-friendly versions of. That reusable plastic water bottle in the back of your cupboard is 100% more sustainable than the recycled-glass one you were planning to buy on Amazon. Now, all of this is not to shame people for buying products. We live in a society of consumption, a practice which has been engrained in our behavior since we were young. You shouldn’t cripple yourself with guilt for having things when we are basically required to have certain products (cars, phones, laptops...) in order to participate in this society.
That being said, to be honest, sometimes buying that cute Squishmallow plushie from Walmart is the only thing you can do to keep you from going off the deep end, and I get that. But...maybe you don’t actually need a collection of twenty to serve as a short-term coping mechanism for that emotional trauma you’ve been neglecting.
We need to find a balance between understanding that we are not individually responsible for wiping out the rainforest or polluting the oceans while also trying our hardest to alleviate suffering on the planet and contribute even a tiny bit to the preservation of our environment. Don’t follow in the deep carbon footsteps of corporations trying to convince you that your happiness is determined by the amount of stuff that you buy.
Oddly enough, sometimes the best thing you can do is...nothing. Well, obviously you don’t do nothing; in better terms, the best thing you can do is not buy anything. And when you get a beverage somewhere, tell them you don’t want a straw, pop off the top, and just drink out of the cup. I promise you’ll survive.