In my pantheist group we talk a lot about reducing our use of plastic so it doesn’t end up in our creeks and rivers, lakes, and oceans, and I hate seeing litter thrown along the roadsides. It makes me sad that people don’t love and respect our earth, our home, their home. Every day I see new articles about the horrible effects of plastic on wildlife in the water and along our beaches. So often they’re our single-use-then-throw-away cups and bottles (sometimes worse, as plastic syringes were recently found in a plastic bag in a local creek), but attention seems focused on plastic straws. These plastic items seem indicative of the throwaway world we live in, where few things are repaired any more, but simply tossed away and piled up in landfills and garbage dumps without another thought of where this stuff ends up and who or what it harms. Plastic straws seem like an easy target, though, something most of us could easily give up, and, in fact, many restaurants and other businesses and towns are outlawing them, making them completely unavailable, and there’s now a variety of alternatives to plastic straws (my daughter gave me a set of metal ones at Christmas).
But as this article, The Last Straw, by Alice Wong, points out, those alternatives may not work for everyone, specifically people with physical disabilities and challenges. They wouldn’t all necessarily find the same things helpful, I’m guessing, as their specific situations vary, and one person with a specific illness may be able to use a metal or paper straw, where another person with the same diagnosis can’t. The point it that I, along with many other people, have been quick to say “ban all plastic straws” because it’s easy for us, and the number of discarded straws is frankly alarming and overwhelming, but I know I haven’t given a thought to the people this may be a hardship for, and I think it’s something worth thinking and talking about. The article goes into different reasons why getting rid of all plastic straws in public places poses a challenge, everything from physically being unable to manipulate a metal straw and keep a cup upright to paper or biodegradable straws disintegrating in hot liquids to the expectations that a particular group of people is expected to carry their own straws with them, which may be a hardship, or be put in an awkward situation in a public place, and other reasons. Recently, there was a news story about a woman with a physical disability who actually died after she fell on her metal straw and it penetrated into her brain.
I don’t know the answer, though it seems like the number of plastic straws freely handed out and sitting around in businesses could be reduced with alternative straws also available. But beyond straws, there are lots of other ways we can walk lighter on the earth in our own lives, other things we can do. Alice Wong herself has made different modifications in her life to help the environment that you and I might not even be doing. We have to make our own choices for what works in our lives and decide as wisely and compassionately as we can. I know I fall short sometimes and don’t do everything I possibly could every minute, but I can strive to do better and be more mindful, make better decisions.
Meanwhile, I’m trying to also keep an open mind about this woman and her particular issues that I haven’t personally experienced or even thought about, and thus not judge her, or other people in a similar situation, for wanting plastic straws to still be available, to not assume she’s being dishonest when she describes the hardship she has had with other kinds of straws she has tried. We’re sometimes too quick to make a judgment about or hang a label on someone as not caring about the environment when we don’t really know their story or the things they may be doing that outweigh our own efforts.
But, no matter which products we are or are not using, I don’t see an excuse for throwing trash and garbage, plastic or otherwise, along our roadsides and beaches, in our local streams, lakes, oceans. That seems disrespectful of our fellow companions on this life journey, our neighbors, our children, pets and wildlife, as well as our waterways and the land itself. I wouldn’t go to your house and throw my weekly garbage in your yard. I wish we could all work together and support each other, rather than judge (or misjudge) one another for which specific products we’re using or not using as we show our loving concern for and commitment to caring for the earth, by reducing the total amounts of plastic, garbage, litter, and single-use items; composting and recycling more; repurposing; cleaning up; educating and being educated. There are so many things we can do, and this earth belongs to us all, and yet at the same time it doesn’t really belong to any of us, but as someone else once said, it’s “on loan” to us for a time, to take care of and live on, to enjoy and tread lightly, to pass along to the next generation. So, what we do in our own lives affects other people and animals and the water supply, etc., our children and grandchildren. Let’s remember, we are a community after all, albeit a huge one, sharing our beautiful planet Earth.