Drowning in Plastic

Brendan Gallagher, Staff Columnist

Brendan Gallagher
Staff Columnist

The debate about the effects of the plastic that human beings use on a daily basis is heating up. Plastic items are produced and used in tremendous amounts every day. There are tremendous downsides to using all this plastic. It is difficult to recycle, and it is impossible to totally contain.

That is why there are now trash gyres in the oceans. Many people have come to the realization that we cannot continue to use plastic items at the rate we are using them.

We have done river cleanups through my work where we have gone up and down portions of the Ohio River, and everything that we have picked up is incredible.”

— environmental lawyer Mr. Sean Gallagher

Californians have debated a ban on plastic straws. This is one of the biggest issues affecting creatures in our oceans. Plastic straws must be banned. Locally, the pollution is also showing its effects.

Mr. Sean Gallagher, an environmental lawyer for a barge company on the Ohio River, has witnessed the impact. He said, “We have done river cleanups through my work where we have gone up and down portions of the Ohio River, and everything that we have picked up is incredible.”

The World Economic Forum did a study in 2016, finding that only 14 percent of plastic packaging is collected for recycling and only 32 percent of plastic packaging escapes collection systems.

According to a David Carrig story in USA Today, “It is estimated that more than 500 million single-use plastic straws are used and thrown away every day in the US alone, as Americans use them at an average rate of 1.6 straw per person per day, according to the National Park Service.”

There are many who question the possibility of stopping this trend. An article in Fortune by Camille Harmer and William F. Shughart promotes focusing more on the disposal of plastic. According to Harmer and Shughart, “To address the problems caused by plastic pollution, it’s better to target its improper disposal than plastic itself.”

This may be a temporary solution to the problem, but the authors are forgetting the point that plastic will not go away, and we cannot recycle or contain all of it. Harmer and Shughart say, “California would be better off to encourage private recycling options, incentivize people to use EPS in more environmentally friendly ways, or wait until alternatives become more viable.”

This is a great idea because recycling all plastic straws would be the perfect solution to ending this problem; however, not all straws can be recycled, and it will be hard to control all the straws, considering they come from many different manufacturers, restaurants and stores.

Most of the plastic in oceans is produced by countries containing poor waste management programs and organization. Mr. Michael Budniak, an environmental science teacher at Trinity High School and active participant in local cleanups, focuses on countries like the United States.

He said, “Just stop producing (straws) and stop using (straws). They really don’t serve anything but a convenience purpose.”

He is not wrong. Straws are not necessary when it comes to drinking a beverage. As far as straw production, there are many alternatives to plastic. There are metal, paper and even straws made of straw.

“Straws made out of straw, or natural grains, are available, and though they may sound strange, they are biodegradable and eco-friendly alternatives to plastic straws,” according to Carrig.

Metal straws are also more durable and eco-friendly than plastic because they are reusable. Some people carry around metal straws to use at restaurants.

One more important step to stopping this problem is educating legislatures on the effects of plastic pollution.