Plastic Straws

18 million straws are used at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa every year.

The war on straws has begun at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. We’ve all seen it: the silver reusable straws floating around campus or the petition circulating Instagram. Even Starbucks has a new brand of cups that do not require straws.

Reducing plastic usage can help the environment, but is this social justice movement tackling the real problem or is it just a fad? At the very least, a straw ban could help students become more aware of environmental issues.

Plastic Pollution

Plastic straws are an environmental concern. The Plastic Pollution Coalition (PPC), an organization fighting against pollution from single-use plastic products like straws, states that more than 500 million plastic straws are used each day in the United States. These little tubes are used to guzzle down a frappuccino or your go-to drink from Jamba Juice, then tossed in the trash just a few minutes later.

Although straws contribute to ocean pollution, the bigger problem is fishing lines. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is located between California and Hawaiʻi. It is the largest of five garbage patches in the Pacific and is twice the size of Texas or three times the size of France, according to statistics on The Ocean Cleanup.

The Ocean Cleanup states that nearly 46 percent of plastic found in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch was fishing nets. Marine life can get caught in these nets and find themselves unable to escape. According to Ocean Crusaders, nearly 100,000 marine animals die from these “ghost nets” every year and these are only the animals who are found.

Plastic can be detrimental to the diets of marine life as well. The surface of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch contains nearly 180 times more plastic than marine life and because of the appearance and size of plastic, animals like sea turtles can confuse plastic for food. The diets of sea turtles located in or around the Great Pacific Garbage Patch has been found to be composed of up to 74 percent plastic. Consumption of this plastic can be harmful, with nearly 84 percent of the plastic in the plastic having been found to have at least one “persistent bioaccumulative Toxic” (PBT) chemical. When marine life consume these chemicals, it can not only be detrimental to them, but affect entire food chains.

The Petition to Ban Plastic Straws

A petition launched by the Surfrider Foundation Oʻahu Chapter at UH Mānoa seeks to establish a campus-wide ban on plastic straws. The petition has 991 signatures, with a goal of 1000.

The petition states: “Approximately 18 million plastic straws are used and discarded every year in UH Manoa campus. Each straw is used for an average of less than ten minutes, but they can persist in the environment for up to a million years. Plastic pollution is poisoning our world. The University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa community is saying NO to this thoughtless pollution and demanding a ban on single-use plastic straws.”

Surfrider “Rise Above Plastics” co-coordinator Maleah Reynolds is an advocate of the petition.

“Usage of single-use plastics needs to be reduced on a global level. The petition to ban plastic straws can create momentum for students to reduce plastic in all areas of their daily lives,” Reynolds said.

Moving Forward

While straws may not be the main source of ocean pollution, small steps can make a big impact; reducing waste in any form is a good thing.

Carl Evensen, interim director of Lyon Arboretum and specialist in water quality and pollution control at UH Mānoa’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, states that although the anti-straw movement seems token, it could increase people’s awareness and commitment to work on larger issues.

“I think the best that this would do would be to increase people’s awareness and commitment to work on larger issues,” Evensen said. “Overall it does not do harm. It does some good and the main good is probably in terms of people thinking about issues of plastic and awareness, and at best this could be a spring board with a small success moving onto bigger successes.”

A ban on plastic straws may seem trivial in comparison to larger issues, but any small change can make a difference. To support Surfrider’s petition to ban plastic straws at UH Mānoa, head to https://petitions.moveon.org/sign/university-of-hawaii-1.