Do metal straws actually save the turtles?


Sofia Casimiro

The metal straw trend began shortly after a video of someone pulling a plastic straw out of a turtle’s nose went viral on Instagram. Thousands of people — including students from Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School — reposted this video onto their Instagram stories to help raise awareness of this incident.
“I think it has become a trend because it is spread throughout marketing in the media. Rather than a variety of details be exposed through the media, ‘save the turtles’ has become particularly widespread,” senior Carly Spellman said. 
Almost instantly, social media pages with high followings began promoting metal straw ads, providing followers with a convenient way to help save the turtles from ocean plastic. The proposed solution to saving the turtles was so simple, in fact, the impact of metal straws seemed too good to be true.
“The unfortunate reality is that in terms of plastic pollution, straws don’t even crack the top five contributors,” Rittner said. “Even if I snapped my fingers like Thanos right now and eliminated all of the plastic straws on Earth, yeah it would have an impact, but it wouldn’t really make any big difference.”
In fact, plastic bags, being one of the actual top contributors, are not only harming sea turtles but the environment at large. 
“I think they specifically highlight turtles because they do not do enough research on their own to expand their horizons. The appeal of saving the turtles has become a trend in marketing and fails to highlight the reality: all marine life is threatened by the build-up of plastic waste,” Spellman said. 
“You got whales that are dying because they’ve eaten seventy pounds of plastic bags,” Rittner said. “[The bags] fill up their stomachs, and [the whales] can’t eat food anymore because the plastic is indigestible, and they just starve to death. Stopping the use of plastic straws will not fix that [either].”
 Ironically, these straws arrive at one’s doorstep not only packaged in plastic but partially made of plastic themselves,  making them nonbiodegradable and therefore contradicting the purpose of the metal straws. Additionally, although the idea behind metal straws is well-intentioned, there are several expenses at play when one uses these straws. “In the case of metal straws, yes you’re not using plastic, but now you are going to increase the demand for the metal,” Rittner said. “[One might say] okay, ‘but the straws are reusable,’ but you are going to be washing that all the time. That’s water resources, that’s heat resources in the form of hot water, that’s soap resources … You’re still using lots of resources. That doesn’t necessarily solve the fundamental issue that is [plastic] straws.” 
This said, little things do make a difference so they should keep being done, but being aware of the bigger picture and adding to how you help the planet is a crucial part of saving the environment. Some things you can do include using a refillable water bottle, bringing lunch in reusable containers rather than using Ziploc bags, and bringing your own cloth bags or reusing plastic bags when shopping.