Common Core: RH.6-8.2, RH.6-8.6, RH.6-8.8, RI.6-8.6, RI.6-8.8

C3 (D2/6-8): Civ.3, Civ.7, Civ.12

NCSS: Civic ideals and practices; People, places, and environments; Science, technology, and society


Should Plastic Straws Be Banned?

Artem Varnitsin/EyeEm/Getty Images

Americans throw away millions of plastic straws every day. Many of them end up in the oceans, where they can be very harmful to marine animals. In 2015, a video showing a turtle with a straw stuck up its nose went viral, prompting renewed calls for cutting back on disposable plastic—especially straws.

Since then, many restaurants nationwide have responded by giving out straws only when they’re requested. Others have stopped offering them altogether. Cities such as Seattle, Washington, and Malibu, California, recently imposed bans on plastic straws. New York City is considering doing the same.

People who support such bans point to the fact that plastic straws are a common form of plastic litter found on beaches—and in the oceans. Banning plastic straws, they say, would help reduce the amount of plastic threatening marine life.

Opponents of such bans, however, say they would do little to solve the much bigger problem of plastic waste that’s improperly disposed of. Instead of banning plastic straws altogether, they say, people should be encouraged to properly recycle them.

Should plastic straws be banned? Two experts—an environmentalist and a representative of the plastics industry—weigh in.


The world is facing a crisis of single-use plastic pollution. An estimated 5 million to 13 million tons of plastic waste, including straws, enters the ocean each year. This affects our ecosystems, marine life, and even the water we drink. Some studies project that by 2050, there could be more plastic by weight in the ocean than fish if we don’t take action now.

Plastic straws are one of the top items of plastic waste found on beaches worldwide. Last summer, during International Coastal Cleanup Day, more than 640,000 plastic straws and stirrers were picked up from beaches around the globe.

Millions of plastic straws end up in oceans—and harm marine life.

Plastic is made primarily from nonrenewable fossil fuels, and it doesn’t biodegrade. It only breaks up into smaller pieces, so essentially every piece of plastic ever created still exists in some form. As of 2015, only 9 percent of all the plastic waste generated had been recycled. Most ends up in landfills or in the ocean, where it absorbs toxic chemicals, enters the food chain, and harms or kills marine life.

Plastic straws should be banned because the harm they cause vastly outweighs any benefits to society. A number of reusable and Earth-friendly options now exist, including bamboo, stainless steel, and glass. Single-use straws made from paper, pasta, and even seaweed are fully biodegradable.

Bans and other such regulations on items that damage the environment have proven effective in reducing pollution. For example, after California passed a statewide plastic bag ban in 2014, far fewer plastic bags were found on its beaches. A ban on plastic straws would help prevent harm to wildlife, keep our coasts clean, and protect our oceans and beaches for the future.

—Trent Hodges
Plastic Pollution Manager, the Surfrider Foundation


Many people think of plastic straws as a convenience item—something that lets us sip our drinks on the go. So why not ban them in the name of cleaning up our oceans? But plastic straws have legitimate and important uses. Plus, banning them would do little to address the biggest threats to the environment.

Straws are often necessary for young children and the elderly. They help patients recovering from some surgeries to drink liquids and gain nourishment. And they help people with certain disabilities be more independent.

Banning plastic straws won’t solve the real problem: littering.

People who favor bans point to alternatives to disposable plastic straws, such as paper, metal, or reusable plastic ones. But all of those have drawbacks. Paper straws disintegrate in hot liquids. It can be dangerous to walk around with a metal straw in your mouth. And reusable straws, if not cleaned thoroughly, can be a breeding ground for bacteria.

But the primary reason straw bans are misguided is that they don’t address the root cause of the problem: litter. Bans won’t stop people from littering or keep plastic from blowing out of improperly managed landfills. We need to invest more in recycling and properly handling our trash.

Marine debris is a real problem that needs a real solution. No one wants to see vast piles of plastic garbage polluting the oceans, and we’re all horrified that something as simple as a plastic straw can harm marine animals. But the answer isn’t a ban on plastic straws. Straws that are properly disposed of don’t become marine debris. The solution is working hard to reduce littering and to increase recycling so fewer straws end up in our oceans.

—Scott Defife
Vice President of Government Affairs, Plastics Industry Association

Write About It! What evidence does each writer use to support his claims? How does each writer address the other side’s arguments? Who do you think makes the stronger case? Why?

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