Readers Respond: The Case Against Paper Straws

“Paper straws are not going to solve the ocean plastics crisis,” a reader writes. But they’re a good first step.

Paper straws at a bar in San Francisco
Justin Sullivan / Getty

The Case Against Paper Straws

Paper straws are still a single-use, disposable consumer item, Annie Lowrey wrote last month—a greener option than plastic, but not a green one.

Annie Lowrey’s article on the shortcomings of paper straws provides a nuanced look at an issue that has captured the public’s attention. She’s right: Paper straws are not going to solve the ocean plastics crisis. Changing our relationship with single-use plastics will require action from the private sector, government, and individuals.

At the same time, let’s not lose sight of just how ubiquitous plastic straws are.

Plastic straws and stirrers are consistently among the top 10 items found during the Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup each year. On a single day in 2018, volunteers around the world collected more than 3.6 million from beaches and waterways. Small and lightweight, they’re easily left on the beach or leaked out of waste-management systems and into the ocean. Just one can harm a sea turtle.

I am encouraged by how eager all of us are to “skip the straw.” Let’s make sure our next steps are even more meaningful.

Janis Searles Jones
CEO, Ocean Conservancy
Portland, Ore.

I applaud Ms. Lowrey’s explanation of the not-so-straightforward environmental trade-offs we make when trying to “go green.” She is completely right when she says, “Paper straws put the lie to the belief that we can consume our way out of the problems created by consumerism.” But that is only half of the discussion.

Yes, consumers need to change wasteful consumption habits. But consumers alone do not have the power to solve the plastic problem plaguing the environment. Plastic manufacturers need to participate! Not by eliminating single-use plastics—some are absolutely necessary (think medical equipment such as syringes)—but by creating plastic materials that mimic natural, biologic recycling processes (think tree trunk decomposing on the forest floor).

Work is being done to further this line of thinking. Plastics manufacturing is a huge, profitable industry. Industrial change of this scale for the benefit of the Earth will be difficult but absolutely necessary. Halting the damage being done to our environment requires all parties to participate.

Stacy Stephens
Denver, Colo.