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.