The Impact Plastic Straws and Plastic Bags Have on the Environment

The Impact Plastic Straws and Plastic Bags Have on the Environment

LANSING - In August 2015, the world was outraged when a video of a team of scientists removing a plastic straw from a sea turtle’s nose went viral. The graphic video brought awareness to the dangers that sea turtles and other marine life face daily with the ever-increasing amount of plastic residing in oceans, lakes and rivers.

Since that video was released, people across the world and numerous companies, cities and states have teamed up to try and reduce the use of plastic bags and straws due to the negative impact it has on marine life, including Greater Lansing’s very own Potter Park Zoo.

"We do not have any plastic straws or lids, and that is because of the safety of our animals, but now it's really for anything so people don't take it out of the zoo and put it in the trash,” said Zoo in Your Neighborhood and FALCONERS Coordinator Mariah Martinez. “You can buy a reusable cup here and it actually has a straw with it. You can also purchase a paper straw for $0.25 if you absolutely want a straw."

Proceeds from paper straw purchases goes directly to Potter Park Zoo and its conservation efforts. The zoo also sells reusable bags to encourage people to avoid using plastic bags.

“Imagine how many plastic bags are probably ending up in the oceans, rivers and lakes because people don’t recycle them,” Martinez said. “If you don’t recycle, it’s just going to end up in a landfill. Plastic bags are so light that they can just fly away. In the ocean, [plastic bags] actually float, just like a jellyfish looks. Sea turtles will chomp on that plastic bag thinking it’s a jelly fish for food, and then they’ll consume it. Then they’ll either end up dying because they feel full, because plastic fills you up, and they won’t actually eat real food. And then the chemicals. Over time, the chemicals will just kill the animal.”

Plastic is harmful to the environment because it is non-biodegradable, meaning it will break down into smaller pieces but will never fully disappear. According to the Plastic Pollution Coalition, “Americans alone discard more than 30 million tons of plastic a year; only eight percent of it gets recycled. In our oceans alone, plastic debris outweighs zooplankton by a ratio of 36-to-1.” The organization also said that when plastic sits in landfills, its toxic chemicals seeps into groundwater and pollutes lakes and rivers. In research obtained by Jenna R. Jambeck from the University of Georgia, “National Geographic” estimates that roughly 18 billion pounds of plastic pollutes oceans every year. Roland Geyer from the University of California, Santa Barbara suggests that “Less than a fifth of all plastic is recycled globally.”

McDonald’s, Seattle, Wash., Starbucks, the state of California, The Walt Disney Company and Peanut Barrel in East Lansing, Mich. are also making strides towards reducing the amount of plastic used.

On June 15, 2018, McDonald’s announced its plan to phase out plastic straws from its restaurants in the United Kingdom and Ireland and switch to more environmentally-friendly paper-based straws; the fast-food chain also plans to test out environmentally-friendly options in the United States later this year. In a statement obtained by “USA Today,” Francesca DeBiase, who is the company’s Executive Vice President for Global and Supply Chain and Sustainability, said McDonald’s hopes this transition “will support industry-wide change.”

On July 1, 2018, Seattle, Wash. became the first major U.S. city to ban straws. Disobeying this law could result in a $250 fine.

On July 9, 2018, Starbucks announced it would do away with its iconic green straw by 2020 in place of a more environmental-friendly option, which has already been introduced in some stores. In a press release on its website, the coffee chain said this transition will eliminate the use of more than one billion straws a year.

The state of California is also making efforts towards banning plastic straws in sit-down restaurants. If this law goes into effect, violating it could result in a fine between $25-$1,000 and jail time.

The Walt Disney Company became the latest company to join the ban on plastic straws. In a press release on July 26, 2018, the theme park said it will “eliminate single-use plastic straws and plastic stirrers at all owned and operated locations across the globe” by 2019.

East Lansing’s Peanut Barrel restaurant also joined the fight when it announced it would stop issuing plastic straws unless a customer asked for one and would use products that are compostable.

The idea behind plastic bag and plastic straw bans is to preserve the environment and protect its wildlife for future generations to come.

“If everyone stopped using plastic straws, imagine just how less plastic there would be in the world and in oceans,” said Michigan State University journalism senior Hannah Holliday. “If everyone used a reusable water bottle, imagine how much less trash we would have. It’s important when thinking about the environment to think about future generations and long-term how we’re affecting our planet, because we’re not going to be here forever; there are going to be people here after us."

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