Reason.com

Free Minds & Free Markets

Don’t Ban Straws

Banning straws "might make some politicians feel good, but it won't actually accomplish anything good."

Want to sip a refreshing beverage this summer?

If environmental zealots and sycophants get their way, you won't be allowed to sip it through a plastic straw.

Actress Nina Nelson and other celebrities made a video claiming that plastic straws kill sea life: "In the USA alone, over 500 million straws are being used every single day, most of which are going into our oceans."

"I will stop sucking," vowed the celebrities.

In obedient response, Seattle banned plastic straws, and other places plan to follow. Starbucks, Hyatt, and Hilton are all abandoning straws.

Katy Tang, of San Francisco's Board of Supervisors, says, "We are no longer going to allow for plastic straws here."

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio agrees: "Their time has come and gone."

But before politicians ban things in the name of saving the world, I wish they'd take the trouble to actually study what good the ban would do.

Plastic garbage in oceans is a genuine problem. But most of the pollution comes from Asia. A small amount does come from America, but only a tiny fraction of that is plastic straws.

Banning straws "might make some politicians feel good," says the Competitive Enterprise Institute's Angela Logomasini in this week's Stossel TV video, "but it won't actually accomplish anything good."

But what about that scary "500 million" figure that celebrities, politicians and news anchors constantly cite? It turns out that number came from a 10-year-old who, for a school project, telephoned some straw makers.

Because the boy is cute, the media put him on TV. Now the media, environmental activists, and politicians (Is there a difference?) repeat "500 million straws used daily... many end up in oceans," as if it were just fact. The real number is much lower.

Still, activists like talk show host Ethan Bearman tell us, "If we can reduce something that easy—something that gets stuck in turtles' noses and damages the environment—let's do that. Sometimes, we do need a little gentle guiding hand from government."

But government's guiding hand is neither "little" nor "gentle." Government action is force. In this case, the politicians will either ban straws or order us to replace plastic straws with more expensive ones made of paper or bamboo.

Bearman calls that an advantage, telling us, "Plastic doesn't actually biodegrade, unlike paper, which breaks down into other components."

But that's exactly the problem. Paper straws don't only break down in dumps, they also break down while you're using them. They get soggy. They leak.

"That's the beauty of plastic. It's enduring," says Logomasini.

She also points out that paper and bamboo straws aren't environmentally pristine. "Paper products take more energy and effort to produce. And paper doesn't degrade in a landfill, either. Everything (in landfills) is essentially mummified."

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Inigo Montoya||

    "But before politicians ban things in the name of saving the world..." I wish they would ban themselves. FTFY, John.

    Sometimes I swear politics is actually just a jobs program for the extremely retarded who also have inflated egos and have always been very bossy.

  • Mithrandir||

    Reading this article preceded by the Bill Weld article makes me really want Stossel to run on the LP ticket.

  • Delius||

    To me, this is the ultimate expression of the Libertarian mindset -- weigh the pros and cons of decisions instead of what the orthodoxy says is the "right" thing to do. Let things stand or fall based on their own merit. It is the scientific method applied to policy.

    I had an argument with a friend yesterday in which he eventually told me, "You can believe whatever you want to believe." He straight up didn't care what the facts were.

  • Heraclitus||

    The straw debate is just a proxy for a larger debate on pollution in general. What is frankly amazing is that for all the progress environmentalists made in the 20th century we are spending our time debating straws. Meanwhile, straw or no straw, if I order a light meal at a fast food restaurant I am handed packaging equivalent to 50 straws that immediately gets thrown away whether I need it or not. And as for straws, are we all 8 year olds? Who the heck drinks with a straw except kids? Seriously. Lift the drink and tilt it when it hits your lips. It's not hard. Your free to be lazy and suck instead.

  • Don't look at me.||

    No milkshakes for you?

  • JFree||

    This^^

    There is such a huge lost opportunity here. I'd argue that even the larger debate (which doesn't really exist now) on pollution/etc has become merely a proxy for people to hit each other over the head while stuck in a 19th century mindset.

    Meanwhile the 3rd largest export product of the US to China is - our garbage - solely because it fills shipping containers that would otherwise be empty on the return voyage. And since that garbage is polluted/toxic (in no small part because it is not priced and hence - garbage), it is increasingly just being shipped around Asia - and then dumped into the ocean from there.

  • ||

    "I will stop sucking," vowed the celebrities."

    Are they sure they want to go with that?

    They should have done that when Weinsteinasaurus was whipping his wild pipi around during the Couchzoic era.

    Chooches.

  • Architect of Liberty||

    This is the last straw...

  • John B. Egan||

    OMG! Panic Panic! Run around waving hands in the air! Auuuuuuuuuugggggg! "If environmental zealots and sycophants get their way, you won't be allowed to sip it through a plastic straw.".... What will we do? This is the end of civilization as we know it... Auuuuuuggggghhhhh!

    -Paper straws like we used before plastic straws.. or real reed straws..sanitized and wrapped. Big deal.

    - Plastics Pile Up as China Refuses to Take the West's Recycling (Jan 2018)
    - 8 steps to solve the ocean's plastic problem | World Economic Forum (Mar 2018)

    Plastic isn't something we should all strive to use and toss, it really is a byproduct of a disposable society... never did understand why people freak out over 'plastic bag bans' and removing junk from our society.. Seriously? THIS is what Reason Magazine is all about? Whoa!

  • Kuvasz||

    "the zealots moved on to demand bans on pipeline construction, mining, and oil drilling." What? I was in total agreement until I got to that sentence. I don't ecovucate the loss of over 300,000 acres of US public parks formerly appropriated by FDR to US citizens and Native Tribes; now wide open to oil drilling as quite the same thing. But then again, there has been a total news black-out over both Standing Rock and Bears Ears for years. Maybe you should ask people there if they think contaminated drinking water is as damaging as plastic straws. Seriously?

  • L. W. Paton||

    Politicians band straws because moderates, those further left and politically neutral people who rely on Kimmel for news will re-elect them.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online