All the little tiny plastic things

Photo Credit: Horia Varlan from Bucharest, Romania

Once you start exploring the zero waste world, you’ll find that there’s a strange fascination with straws. There’s Strawless Ocean, legislation to ban straws all over the place and probably hundreds of non-plastic straw options. Which is great, if you use straws. Straws have already been banned in national parks and other places where wildlife can accidentally ingest them.

But why are people using straws at all? I’ve heard that supermodels use straws so that the endless amount of Diet Coke they drink doesn’t stain their perfect teeth. My teeth are yellow-white from years of coffee and red wine so I don’t feel like that’s a justification. Skipping straws is probably the easiest zero waste move I could make because I literally never want a straw.

Here’s another thing I never want: party favors. My son’s birthday is November 3. Because it is so close to Halloween, I never gave out party bags at his birthday party when he was little. At his 5th birthday party, a kid from his preschool class demanded that I give him a party bag and I am pretty sure I laughed in his face. The last thing those people needed were more treats. We are awash in plastic rings, whistles, stickers, erasers, kazoos and tiny baggies. These items are manufactured for the sole purpose of being sent to the landfill. Please do not buy them and please do not give them to me.

The reason people like to receive these items is because they are free. You can take as many straws as you want at McDonald’s. A free kazoo!? Awesome. Other free things: pens at hotels, complimentary bags at conferences, coupons on a store counter, pamphlets, business cards, cocktail spears. All free, all destined for the landfill.

Refusing free stuff is a great way to eliminate plastic from your life. Just say “No thanks,” in a really cheery voice and keep your hands down. The fewer freebies people take, the less successful they will be seen as a marketing tool. The fewer party favors people accept, the less necessary they will be for thanking our friends for leaving their screaming kid at Pump It Up for two hours to celebrate a successful live birth five years ago.

I want to add one more thought about straws. Straws are a bogeyman for climate change deniers. Deniers like to make fun of the anti-straw people because it really looks stupid from the outside, and it is. To make straws the focus of fighting climate change is myopic and short-sighted and symbolic. It’s easy to dismiss. What I’m saying is, don’t let anyone make it about the straws. It’s about our entire production, consumption and waste system, and how we all need to be proactive in dealing with that system.

I write, parent, arbitrate, not necessarily in that order. Please subscribe to my newsletter:

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