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This is the last straw… or not

“This is the last straw” is a phrase often heard when someone is fed up with something. The proverbial “last straw” is the thing that finally sends you over the edge, perhaps pushing you from mere frustration to outright anger.

Apparently, the origins of the phrase date back to another familiar one: “the straw that broke the camel’s back.” That one is pretty self-explanatory, right? A camel carrying straw (or hay) was loaded up with too much cargo that a single extra straw caused it to collapse. It’s a metaphor for how things can pile up until even just a simple tiny thing can be the tipping point to make things much worse.

But soon, however, the phrase “the last straw” might become literal. At least in regards to plastic drinking straws.

There’s an ongoing movement to reduce the use of plastic straws in order to better protect the environment.

According to thelastplasticstraw.org, 500 million disposable straws are used in the United States each day. That’s a lot of waste which never goes away because plastic isn’t biodegradable and much of it isn’t recycled. The website encourages people to join in on their movement by requesting “no straw” when you purchase a drink at a restaurant or bar or anywhere else.

Truthfully, I stumbled across this website in a google search of “the last straw” out of curiosity after reading an NPR article about the growing movement to reduce straw use. The article mentioned different initiatives throughout the country to get rid of straws. From New York City where a councilman is trying to pass a bill to prevent restaurants from providing plastic straws, to Miami Beach and Malibu where plastic straws are already banned completely.

And it’s not just in America where people are making strides to reduce straw use. The United Nations Environmental website has a recent article about a group of activists in India who are campaigning to get restaurants to start using straw alternatives. Their campaign, which uses #patheticplastics as a tagline, focuses not only on straws but plastics in general.

After reading these articles, I wondered what alternatives actually are available. I can’t imagine a straw made of anything other than plastic, but they apparently do exist. USA Today recently compiled a list of plastic alternatives, many reusable instead of disposable. You can make straws out of paper, though I cannot imagine how well that works up against liquids. If I forget about it, does it get soggy??

You can make them out of metal, which sounds difficult to clean, or glass, which sounds easy to break. The only option I think sounds nice is bamboo, which seems more convenient than anything else so far and, as USA Today notes, “they are great at tiki parties.” Perhaps in the future, all restaurants can implement a festive tiki theme to help the inevitable transition?

I’ve been out to eat at a few restaurants since I started reading about this topic, so I’ve been more aware than ever before how often I use the ubiquitous drinking utensil.

Now when I sit down to eat, there are a million questions floating through my head: what happens to the straw if I don’t use it? Is this cup clean enough to put my mouth on? Of course, it’s clean, right? Right?? And hey, how much am I hurting the environment if I ask for a to-go cup with a plastic top? If I don’t ask for a top and a straw, am I going to spill my drink all over my car on the way home??

Needless to say, something which seems so simple is actually a lot to think about.

I don’t fault the environmentalists who are trying to help by reducing the use of plastics. We can’t deny our planet would be a lot better off if there weren’t colorful plastic straws dotting the landscape or floating around on ocean waves.

But well, I’m still using plastic straws myself. I guess I’m not at “the last straw” just yet.


Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at holly.taylor@r-cnews.com or by phone at 252-332-7206.