There is nothing wrong with trying to cut down on waste. There is nothing wrong with trying to cut down on the amount of straws we use. But when you use fake statistics to whip up hysteria, and you indulge in extreme exaggeration and blatant falsehood, and especially when you use these exaggerations and falsehoods as the basis for unnecessary laws, then it becomes incumbent on honest people to step in and correct the record.
In reality, your straw usage has almost no impact on the ocean whatsoever. That’s partly because the “500 million straws a day statistic” is invented, and partly because the United States as a whole contributes very, very little to the plastic waste problem. About 60% of the plastic in the Ocean comes from five Asian countries: China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Thailand. Indonesia’s Citarum River, the most polluted river on Earth, is essentially a massive trash heap on a giant aquatic conveyor belt. Every day, 20,000 tons of waste and 340,000 tons of wastewater are dumped into it and then ferried to the ocean. In places like Vietnam, plastic in the water is the least of anyone’s concerns. Raw sewage is discharged directly into water ways, turning the rivers toxic.
In all, and speaking just of plastic pollution, Asia and Africa account for 95% of the problem. That leaves only 5% of the ocean’s plastic debris to be split between the continents of Europe, North America, South America, and Australia. According to this chart, Brazil is the worst plastic offender outside of Asia and Africa. 23 European countries, collectively, are 18th on the list. The United States comes in 20th. America, with its population of 330 million, is dwarfed on the plastic pollutant list by countries like Sri Lanka with 310 million fewer people.
We could collect all of the straws in North America, bundle them together and shoot them into the Sun, and the state of the ocean would hardly be improved at all. Indeed, we could stop using plastic altogether and it would barely make a dent in the problem. Does that mean we should be totally unconcerned about our own waste? No, but it does mean that our waste is, comparatively, not a significant problem. The ocean is being destroyed by Asia and Africa. Until they get their acts together, only minimal progress can be made.
And, as far as straws go, it’s a near total non-issue. The United States accounts for a tiny fraction of the plastic in the ocean and straws account for a tiny fraction of that tiny fraction. Go ahead and refrain from straws if you wish. More power to you. But you are accomplishing very little for the environment. That’s just the reality, in case anyone cares about reality anymore.
By Matt Walsh
Matt Walsh is a writer, speaker, author, and one of the religious Right’s most influential young voices.