By Christy Brissette July 3, 2018
Just a few years ago, you automatically received a straw with any cold takeout drink and probably didn’t think twice about it. No longer. Seattle is the latest city to join at least a dozen others across the United States in banning plastic straws. McDonald’s in the United Kingdom and KFC in Singapore have also served their final straws.
Governments and companies are taking this action because of the staggering volume of waste generated by something most people don’t need: An estimated 7.5 percent of plastic in the environment comes from straws and stirrers, according to an analysis by a group of pollution research nonprofits called Better Alternatives Now, which based its results on trash collected by volunteers around the world. A recent report by the World Economic Forum projects that by the year 2050, the plastic in our oceans will outweigh the fish.
If that’s not persuasive enough, there are lesser-known, health-related reasons to ditch the little plastic tube. Here are some of the concerns.
Gas and bloating
Sipping from a straw introduces air into the digestive tract. This can cause uncomfortable digestive symptoms, such as gas and bloating. When I’m counseling clients who are experiencing these symptoms, I always ask them about lifestyle habits, such as whether they drink from a straw often. Some of my clients have experienced significant improvements by ditching straws, as well as cutting back on two other habits that introduce air into the digestive tract: drinking carbonated beverages and chewing gum.
Drinking sugary or acidic beverages through a straw can increase the likelihood of cavities. Straws send a concentrated stream of liquid toward a small area of the teeth, which can erode enamel and cause tooth decay. On the other hand, straws can also be used to lower the risk of cavities if they’re positioned behind the teeth, at the back of the throat, although this approach isn’t realistic or comfortable for most people.
Most single-use plastic straws are made from polypropylene, a type of plastic commonly made from petroleum. Polypropylene is thought to be food-safe in amounts approved by the Food and Drug Administration. But there is evidence that chemicals from polypropylene can leach into liquids and may release compounds that could affect estrogen levels, especially when exposed to heat, acidic beverages or UV light.
More established is the fact that degraded plastics found in the ocean are ingested by marine wildlife, making their way up the food chain and perhaps winding up at the dinner table. So not only can plastics harm animals in the environment — think about the sea turtle with the straw up its nostril — but bits of them, and the toxic chemicals within, may hurt us all.