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Metal Straws vs. Plastic: Their Impact on the Environment

We looked at data to see if metal straws are really worse than plastic straws.
IMAGE UNSPLASH/PIXABAY
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Metal straws have been slammed recently due to concerns regarding their safety and environmental impact. On Twitter, a user slammed metal straws for their alleged impact on the environment.

“Your metal straws are products of nickel mining,” Twitter user @pammirand wrote. “Result: indigenous displacement and massive land-water pollution.”

Are Metal Straws Bad for the Environment?

Are metal straws really bad? We did some research. According to a study, the energy used to produce a single metal straw is equivalent to the energy used to produce 90 plastic straws. Based on their carbon emissions, producing one metal straw is equivalent to producing 150 plastic straws.

The study also noted that the average disposal rate for metal straws in five years was three percent. One the other hand, the disposal rate for plastic straws was 100 percent in five years. This means that if one million metal straws were produced this year, only 30,000 of those were disposed of after five years, while if one million plastic straws were produced this year, then one million plastic straws would have been disposed of even before the year ended.

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But, it also means that for you to break-even on the environmental cost of producing your metal straw, you would have to use it at least 150 times.

Based on these facts alone, metal straws easily trump plastic straws because they minimize solid waste.

The Philippines is the third largest producer of nickel after Russia and Indonesia. Palawan is one of the country’s biggest sources of nickel ore and has some of the biggest mining sites in the country. As far as illegal mining is concerned, the finger should not be pointed at metal straws, nor should these be blamed for allegedly turning Palawan into a wasteland. In 2017, nearly all mining operations in the Philippines were suspended by then DENR secretary Gina Lopez. One of the few mining operations she allowed was the one in Palawan because of the reported successful rehabilitation of mined sites.

Besides, nickel is used to produce a host of other everyday things, including spoons, forks, coins, wire, batteries, houses, bridges, and the smartphones we use for tweeting. The list is endless.

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Are Metal Straws Safe?

Metal straws are fine, as long as you use them properly and bring them with you everywhere you go so you don't have to use plastic straws. If you refuse to use metal straws, it’s fine to drink straight from a cup. We are not advocating the use and purchase of metal straws, but when I was a kid, I was hurt by a plastic straw too. It scraped the roof of my mouth, causing it to bleed. To this day, I can still feel the scarring up there. The point is, anything can be dangerous. Ask the turtle who had a plastic straw stuck up its nostrils or watch the video below.

A recent headline in international news said a woman died when she was impaled by a metal straw. The sad accident was a result of her falling and landing on the straw, not because of her using it. Metal straws can be just as safe as spoons and forks.

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Other Pro-Environment Things That Turn Out to Be Harmful

Instead of harping on metal straws, here are other supposedly environment-friendly items we should also worry about:

Eco Bags: Eco bags could turn out to be worse than plastic bags. According to a report, a person needs to use eco bags or reusable bags at least 104 times to make a difference in the environment. However, statistics showed that people use eco bags only 52 times on average. More critically, most eco bags are also made from plastic-based fiber like nylon. Over time, the threads wear out, producing millions of microplastics that wash away into the ocean. Yikes.

Paper Plates: Not all paper plates are environment-friendly and recyclable because many of these have a wax or plastic coating on the surface. This thin film of plastic eventually peels off and find its way into bodies of water.

Paper Cups: Most paper cups are not 100 percent paper. Like paper plates, these usually have a lining of wax on the inner side to prevent liquids from soaking the cup. Sadly, this also prevents the cups from being recycled.

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If you really want to make a positive impact on the environment, consider minimizing your consumption and use of single-use plastics and even paper disposables.

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Mario Alvaro Limos
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