If you’ve been following the news lately, there’s a good chance you’ve heard about some controversy surrounding plastic straws.

Some restaurants have decided not to hand their patrons straws unless they’re specifically asked for. Others have simply banned plastic straws altogether. Of course, there are arguments on both sides of this controversy. After all, we’re all used to plastic straws, and it can be hard to accept the change that some restaurants are implementing.

So, what’s the big deal about using plastic straws anyway?

Well, the impact of these tiny plastic tubes is greater than most people realize.

Let’s take a closer look at how plastic straws impact the environment, and what that could mean for us on a larger scale.

The Anti-Straw Facts

Plastic waste has been a huge problem for our environment for a long time. Typically, people are focused on single-use plastics like grocery bags, and, of course, plastic straws. According to the EPA, more than 33 million tons of plastic trash is tossed out each year. Straws and other plastic stirrers make up about 7% of that waste. That’s quite a hefty portion for such small sippers! With that in mind, it’s no wonder people are trying desperately to look for alternatives.

But, yearly facts can be difficult for some people to swallow, so here’s a daily fact for you: Over 500 million plastic straws are used every single day in the United States alone. Some studies have estimated that because of this, there could be more plastic in the ocean than fish by the year 2050. That will end up creating incredibly polluted water and destroying the way of life for millions of underwater creatures and plant life.

Once straws get into the water, they often break down. That might sound good at first, but it can actually be even more dangerous for marine life. Once plastic breaks down into smaller particles, it becomes easier for fish, birds, etc., to ingest. The plastic can get caught in their throats, noses, or their stomachs and cause serious health issues, or even death.

What is the Solution?

You might think that simply recycling straws rather than banning them is the best way to go. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. Because straws are so lightweight, they often don’t make it through recycling sorters. They usually get filtered through the machines and end up as garbage. So, even if you have the best intentions in recycling them, your efforts may go to waste!

The real solution is a global ban on plastic straws. There are some people who are upset about this, whether they simply want the familiarity of a straw, or because they have a disability and need a straw in order to drink.

The good news?

There are useful and environmentally-friendly alternatives to plastic straws! Reusable straws are becoming more popular since this movement has started to see more attention. They come in a variety of materials, with the most popular being stainless steel.

You can do your part to help this plastic waste epidemic every time you go to your favorite restaurant. If your waiter sets a straw on the table, be sure to give it back. If you leave it on the table for them to clean up, they’ll likely end up throwing it away.

The more you can limit your use of plastic straws, the better. It’s not too late to take action, but if we all don’t start doing our part to eliminate plastic waste soon, we could see a dire future for our oceans.