The year 1888 is an important one in New Mexico – it marks the year our oldest public institution of higher education was founded, New Mexico State University. 1888 also marks the year the “straw” was patented in Washington D.C., by Marvin Stone. The patent consisted of a manufacturing process where the straw was produced using winding strips of paper. However, in the 1960s, it was replaced by a toxic material called plastic, which is the common straw we know today.
While it may seem harmless and quite silly to think a simple plastic straw could have a negative impact in our environment, the truth is, it does. One plastic straw can take approximately 200 years to decompose, which means there are over 140 years to go before straws produced in the 60s will decompose. Can you imagine how many more plastic straws have been produced since then? Have you ever wondered how long a plastic straw lasts for its intended purpose? Plastic straws are discarded immediately once a beverage is consumed (probably quicker than it takes to produce one) and how many beverages do people consume using plastic straws daily? Is it even necessary to use a plastic straw versus tipping the glass to get a drink? There are alternatives to plastic straws for those who necessarily need them.
Personally, I prefer to tip the glass, but the issue of the plastic straw has become an important one to the extent that municipalities throughout the U.S. have created ordinances banning or restricting the use of plastic straws. Why would they do that, you might ask? Perhaps to help mitigate the negative effects plastic straws have in our environment, such as the toxic byproducts they cause when exposed to heat or the physical harm they cause to marine life. Furthermore, plastic straws are not one of the items that we can recycle in our recycling stream. They end up at the landfill, desert landscape, streams, or polluting the ocean in a big way.
Perhaps it’s time to skip the straw. One way to start is by asking your waitress or drive-thru attendant to leave the straw off when placing your order. It is that simple.
South Central Solid Waste Authority manages solid waste, recyclables, and works to stop illegal dumping for residents and businesses throughout Doña Ana County, NM. Contact the SCSWA at 575-528-3800 or visit www.SCSWA.net.
By Peter R. Ibarbo, Education & Outreach Coordinator
South Central Solid Waste Authority