Something as Small as a Straw Can Make a Big Change Sabrina Verdi

More than 500 million straws are being thrown away every day in the United States. These plastic pollutants are unable to be recycled and are damaging our oceans and land one small piece at a time. Many people are beginning to make the change to using wood or paper straws, which are able to be recycled, and joining the crusade to end the use of these tiny plastic villains. Despite the worldwide desire to eradicate the use of straws, as an occupational therapy student in training, one can see that there are many people in our society who cannot cut the use of straws out of their day-to-day lifestyles. These people can be educated on how to continue to use their universally designed equipment, while also being conscious of the impact they are making on the Earth. The impact we, as a society, leave on the Earth will affect the generations to follow. Generativity is a topic that Pope Francis touches upon in his Encyclical on Climate Change, Laudato Si. We will take a look at all of these ecological problems and even look at the potential solutions. It is essential that we are all educated on how something as small as a straw can lead to an everlasting change on our Earth.

"What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?” (LS, 98). Pope Francis poses this question to his readers and forces them to ponder on the actions they have taken to ensure the world their children and grandchildren grow up in is a good one. He pushes the audience to reflect on questions such as “What is the purpose of our life in this world? Why are we here? What is the goal of our work and all our efforts? What need does the earth have of us?” (LS, 98). These questions are particularly powerful because they are extremely subjective. The individuality of each response to the questions can produce significant effects on people. It may lead them to realize that they are not making enough of an effort, or any at all, to restore their home to the best shape possible for the future generations. The Pope points out that “it is no longer enough, then, simply to state that we should be concerned for future generations. We need to see that what is at stake is our own dignity. Leaving an inhabitable planet to future generations is, first and foremost, up to us" (LS, 98). With this, he calls his audience to action. After forcing them to reflect on their actions, or lack thereof, Pope Francis forces them to desire a need to make a change. One can only hope that this persuasive and worry inducing statement can lead the audience to take action to begin to create a better world for the generations following us.

Quick Facts About Straws:

  • Plastic drinking straws are among the top 10 contributors to marine debris pollution.
  • Nearly 7.5 million plastic straws are lying around America's shorelines right now.
  • Nearly 9 million tons (8 million metric tons) of plastic straws end up in the world's oceans and coastlines each year.
  • Only 9 percent of plastic waste is actually recycled, the rest ends up pilling in landfills, littered on the ground, or can end up in the ocean by way of wind, water, or humans.
  • It takes approximately 500 years for a single straw to decompose.
  • Americans use approximately 1.6 straws per person, per day. That translates into 175 billion straws per year that are polluting our ecosystem.
  • By 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.

Click the button below to visit For A Strawless Ocean; an organization dedicated to ended plastic pollution, starting with the plastic straw. Here you can find out more about where plastic straws end up when they by pass recycling machines and what happens when they get there.

The video above puts into perspective the detrimental impact we are having on our oceans and land environments. We need to begin to take action to save our land for the people who will come after us. As stated above, Pope Francis talks about this idea of saving our planet and expressing generativity in his Encyclical on Climate Change, Laudato Si.

The ignorant response to this epidemic would be to just stop using straws all together; however, this is not possible for many people in society today. For example, on a personal blog, a person living with a neuromuscular condition tells us that they use straws on a regular basis because the limited strength in their hand and arm make is extremely difficult to lift the cup to their mouth and tip it to drink. This solution to this obstacle is the use of a straw. Other conditions from "down syndrome to dementia, from rare neuromuscular disorders to stroke impairments, rely heavily on straws..." Straws allow people living with these disabilities, and many others, to drink confidently and without fear of spills due to weak arm, hand or mouth muscles, tremors, or a variety of other symptoms.

Occupational therapists can play a role in combating the plastic pollution epidemic. A large part of occupational therapy involves the education of our clients. If we have a client who is living with tremors, rather than recommending a plastic lid and plastic straw to prevent spillage, the occupational therapist can recommend the use of a travel cups or tumblers. There are many travel cups available on sites such as Amazon, Target, and other online shopping sites; along with many affordable metal straws on similar sites. As well, if we have a child as one of our clients recommending reusable sippy cups to the parents can be an eco-friendly way to avoid unnecessary waste. A variety of affordable sippy cups can be found at stores such as Target or Walmart, parents can take their children to the store and choose their sippy cup out together to enhance their motivation to reuse the cup day-to-day.

These are some alternatives occupational therapists can suggest to their clients to prevent the constant use of plastic lids and straws. Tumblers, metal straws, and sippy cups for children are all alternative ways to continue confident drinking and avoid spillage for people living with disabilities.

Rapidification is a concept that Pope Francis touches upon in his Encyclical on Climate Change. He defines it as the continued acceleration of changes affecting humanity and the planet, coupled today with a more intensified pace of life and work. In this sense, the Pope is claiming that we are so focused on getting from one place the the next, that we have lost sight of our true goal: the common good of society and integral and sustainable human development. Because rapidification has taken effect, society is not usually concerned with which straws are recyclable and which are destroying our Earth. People today are just looking for the easiest and fastest solution to their tiny, insignificant problems; even if these solutions lead to the demise of our ecosystem. Along with this diminishing care for our home, Pope Francis classifies our society today as a "throwaway" culture. The Pope uses the example of paper to explain the concept to his audience. He talks about how society manufactures so much paper, and instead of recycling it, we just throw it away and reduce it to rubbish. A similar thing is happening with the plastic straws. People need to educated on how they are destroying the Earth with their carelessness and change needs to be made.

One can see a change coming about in the businesses and organizations that have set their sights on getting rid of single-use plastic drinking straws. Locations such as Great Wolf Lodge, Sea World, Alaskan Airlines, Starbucks, and McDonalds have all pledged to cease the use of plastic straws or have turned to the straw-by-request system; where the servers no longer bring straws to the tables, the customers must request them. These small steps are making a dramatic change for the better in our society. The Plastic Pollution Coalition outlines a few steps us citizens can take to join the change and end the use of plastic straws. The Coalition says to encourage your local eateries to no longer automatically give plastic straws and educate other individuals around you to refuse plastic straws as well. Lastly, you can take a stand and sign the pledge below to cease the use of these tiny eco-system killers

All in all, Pope Francis Encyclical on Climate Change can be thought of as a call to action for the current generations. He is pointing out the problems that society has began to care less and less about, and leads them to ponder on the effects their carelessness has on this planet. The videos and informational pages included in this page can inform people on the effects their actions have and how it is causing the slow decline of our ecosystem. There are many steps that anyone can take to reduce the use of plastic straws and make a tiny step towards preserving our Earth for generations to come. As Pope Francis says, the world is a gift which we have freely received and must share with others.


Created with images by Lubo - "Beer bottle and plastic straw on sand sea bottom. Underwater photo, ocean littering / pollution concept." • mesteban75 - "Rainbow colors plastic straws" • ink drop - "Protestors holding climate change banners at a protest" • Daisy Daisy - "Close Up Of Hand Holding Plastic Straws Polluting Beach" • denys_kuvaiev - "Portrait of little girl with white juice box" • Ocskay Mark - "Old woman with alzheimer disease drinking raspberry juice" • Dan Race - "Übung mit Strohhalm zu Logopädie" • rcfotostock - "Anonymous Crowd of business people at a trade fair" • vovan - " underwater" • vovan - " underwater"

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