Can’t Straws Be Recycled? Should Christians Support or Oppose Such Bans?

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I recently read that the city of San Francisco has banned plastic straws. I understand taking care of the environment, but isn’t this going too far? Can’t straws be recycled? Should Christians support or oppose such bans?

San Francisco is not the only city recently to ban plastic straws. Seattle passed a similar ban earlier this summer, and California recently passed a law allowing straws in restaurants only for patrons who request them. A number of coffee shops and restaurant chains also are phasing out straws as part of their service.

It is true that plastic straws are a very small part of plastic waste, but there are good reasons to move away from using them. Small plastics like straws are difficult to recycle and frequently foul recycling machines, making recycling more expensive. Also, plastic does not break down in the environment, so a straw carelessly disposed becomes a forever blight, posing a hazard to wildlife and polluting God’s creation. Don’t dismiss the dangers as insignificant. The movement to ban plastic straws received its emotional push from a video that went viral in 2015 showing a sea turtle with a plastic straw trapped in its nostril.

Another reason for the movement to ban plastic straws is symbolic. Plastics are a major problem, from the Pacific garbage patch the size of several states to the absorption of microscopic plastic pieces by fish and other creatures. The move to cut back on plastics is only just beginning.

Christians, with love and concern for God’s creation and God’s creatures, should be aware of the effects of our lifestyles. Especially for a convenience item like a straw, we ought to be willing to accept a bit of inconvenience or extra effort in order to prevent damage or disrespect to God’s world.

Banning plastic straws won’t save the world, but it may make the world a bit safer for all God’s creatures. What concerns me much more than the plastic straw ban is the move by a number of states to ban such plastic bans. The Michigan legislature, for instance, recently banned municipalities from adopting plastic bag bans despite a number of communities trying to eliminate plastic waste.

About the Author

Rolf Bouma is an ordained pastor in the Christian Reformed Church who teaches religion, ethics, and ecology in the Program in the Environment at the University of Michigan.

See comments (2)


The problem with banning plastic straws is that it constitutes a straining at gnats while camels are being swallowed -- even worse  A few facts are significant here.

First, while the famous Pacific garbage patch is indeed a problem, it is not caused to any significant extent by anything in the US, let alone from plastic straws in the US.  The garbage patch was created and is sustained and grown by dumping that happened in other parts of the world.  As to dumping, the US is highly exemplary, competitively speaking, in terms of dealing with it.

Second, there are good options for dumping, plastic and other materials, that could be much more utilized in the US.  In my county (Marion, in Oregon), we have a good recycling system but the rest of the trash (including plastic straws) go to a "garbage burner" (in Brooks, Oregon), which incinerates the trash at a very high temperature and produces a byproduct of usable energy.  Thus, plastics like straws but much more (made of oil) become fuel for energy production.  As is the case with the Paris Accords, we are so eager to adopt solutions that aren't solutions, but yet resistant to real solutions (probably because of political motivations in a highly politicized and divided society).

Third, it is too often just assumed that avoiding oil based products (e.g., plastic straws) in favor of wood based products (e.g., paper straws) is "environmentally good," when such is just not the case.  Styrofoam coffee cups, for example, are probably a "greener" option to paper cups, but the conventional (often politically inspired) wisdom says other wise.  And today's politicians more often cater to politically favored thinking than true wisdom.  Facts too often come second, if that.

So political bodies in the US can ban plastic straws and more will (my city, Salem, just banned plastic grocery bags), but I would suggest doing so will ultimately be counterproductive.  Adopting false solutions, even if politically popular, won't solve real problems, and will result in failing to seek and implement real solutions (it being assumed the problem has been solved via the faux solutions, again the Paris Accords being an example of that).

Thanks for the thoughts on this Rolf and Doug!

Plastic straws and plastic bags are just a drop in the bucket of our plastic waste but watching the little things can have a big impact. This reminds me of a Wendell Berry essay titled 'Small Destructions Add Up' which you can read online.

I think that passage in Luke can also be helpful: "If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won't be honest with greater responsibilities". Maybe this passage could also read:  If you are stewardly in the small things, you will also be stewardly in the larger ones....

I know if my Opa (who lived thru the hunger winter in Holland during WWII) were still alive, he would be appalled at how wasteful and unstewardly our culture has become....