We should all do what we can to live more sustainably. But the complex operations needed to clean up our oceans will require effort from governments and companies—not just individualsby Lizzie Huxley-Jones / July 26, 2018 / Leave a comment
It is 2018, and plastic straws are the enemy of all that is good. Or at least that’s how it feels.
In the wake of Blue Planet 2’s pleas for reduced plastic use and a distressing viral video of a turtle with a straw lodged in its head, single-use straws have become a favourite target of the environmental movement.
The rhetoric is broadly familiar, rehashing the arguments against plastic bags that led to the 5p charge brought in in 2015 and a subsequent large reduction in their use (Wales saw a reduction in use of 71 per cent in the first three years).
But this time, things seem to have taken a darker tone.
Concerns have been raised over blanket bans and fines, as a large number of disabled people rely on bendable plastic straws. Alternatives of paper, metal and bamboo range from impractical to outright dangerous.
Despite this, businesses, Universities and even whole towns have opted to ban plastic straws.
This vehement focus on a single source of plastic and its users seems both counter-intuitive and at odds with the environmental movement. If we really want to make a difference, we need consider the wider picture.
While the 8.3 million straws estimated to be littering our global coastlines is an astonishing image, it simplifies the issue of ocean plastic. In reality, marine plastic waste is an issue much more complicated than the straw campaign may lead you to believe.
I spent much of my twenties studying marine ecology, followed by work in the third-sector in fishing-related charities. My job relied on collaboration including fishers, campaigners, scientists, governments and industry.
To get briefly technical, plastic marine litter is split into two types: end-user plastics (micro-plastics, bottles, straws polystyrene containers) and those from fishing (like loose nets, buoys, and lines). Plastics pose two main areas of risk for marine life: ingestion (as with the infamous turtle) or entanglement.
Entanglement in lost fishing nets causes a gruesome process known as ghost fishing, where a caught animal dies, baiting the debris and attracting more animals which get trapped. This repeats ad infinitum until the ghoulish gear is removed.
There are many programs tackling…