the false promises of doing good

It seems every few weeks something that was once benign is placed in the crosshairs and suddenly becomes beyond the pale.  Did you know plastic straws were evil?  Well, I guess they are now.  Because a bunch of people said so.

Accordingly, Starbucks is set to ban the use of all plastic straws within two years.  This will supposedly help do better for the planet by removing a source of plastic that for the most part can’t be recycled.

Here’s my problem though.  People might feel good about this, but in the end it’s not even a rounding error.  Plastic straws were fine, now they’re bad.  So folks will hate on them and get rid of them.  Just like plastic bags.

In the end though, what does all this actually accomplish?

I read an article that said in order to overcome the carbon footprint of making a reusable bag verses a plastic bag that you have to use the reusable bag like 150 times.  Let’s say the average shopper goes to the grocery once a week.  That’s three years of using your reusable bag before you were better off asking for plastic.

Are folks actually using their reusable bags for north of three years?  I do, but I’m not sure most people do.  And so banning plastic bags may have done some good, but not nearly as much good as folks probably think.

Think banning plastic straws is going to help the planet?  It might, but not nearly as much good as folks probably think.  Just take a gander as this report from The Economist which shows the life cycle of plastic throughout the planet.

The vast, vast majority of plastic that enters the oceans comes from Asia where consistent recycling and landfills do not exist.  So Starbucks can ban all it wants, but that’s not going to stop rivers of plastic from flowing down the Yellow River into the sea.

And Starbucks also doesn’t seem to love the planet enough to stop using disposable coffee cups that can’t be recycled.  I hope folks realize this.  That over 99% of disposable coffee cups are in fact not recycled regardless of what’s claimed or where they’re tossed.

But do you think Starbucks is going to do something about getting rid of disposable coffee cups?  I doubt it.  Why?  Because: $

There are ways to help the planet.  And even executing rounding error efforts like banning plastic straws helps.  But false promises can also be dangerous.  Solving ocean plastic is hard.  Just comprehend what it’d take to help all of Asia establish coherent trash and recycling policies.

But when all you’ve got from folks is easy answers like: “Oh, I’m not using a plastic straw, I’ve done good for the planet today. [pleasing sigh]”  Then that’s a false promise and in the end doesn’t really help the planet.  Particularly if the thought stops there, and doesn’t move on.

plastic straws.jpg

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