eli5: Why are plastics straws so bad for turtles and not all plastic in general? What’s special about straws?



I don’t get the whole “don’t use plastic straws” but at the same time we use tons of other plastic products. Is there a difference?

In: Earth Science

All single use plastics are bad for the environment. Straws are just one of the biggest examples of single use plastics, and feel like they should be reasonably easy to replace.

The controversy of plastic straws and turtles arose from [this](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4wH878t78bw) video uploaded to YouTube in 2015.

In it a turtle has what appears to be a plastic straw lodged rather deep up one of its nostrils.

The individual in the video (a researcher named Christine Figgener) posted a write up about the incident in a [Nature journal article](https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-07287-z).

There really isn’t anything specifically about plastic straws that make them bad compared to other plastic items, other than:

* We use and dispose of a large number of them each year
* They are small and long enough to trap or get trapped in various wildlife and their orifices (holes)

Though these attributes are true of many plastic items, particularly those that are small and brightly coloured – which can be mistaken for food then ingested, or just get stuck by accident.

Really there is no difference, it was just the video that caused a large emotional reaction for viewers. We need to halt leakage of our waste into the environment, not just plastics but all materials, chemicals, and pollutants.

All single-use plastics are a problem, but a lot of them serve important purposes that we don’t necessarily have great alternatives for. Inexpensive packaging to keep things fresh and sterile, for instance.

But straws…we don’t really need straws. So it’s an easy target. There are also many alternatives in cases where straws are still kinda useful.

We say “don’t use plastic straws” because there’s actually a good chance people will listen. Saying “don’t use ziploc bags” won’t work very well, because those are actually pretty functional and we can’t just replace them with bits of bamboo on a whim.

u/OsamaBinLadenDoes explained it well. Plastic straws caused a large emotional response because of the turtle video. It got popular/viral enough that politicians latched on to it to ride that popularity wave in search of power and personal gain. Enough of them campaigned on it that some changes were made (by politicians that were otherwise fine using plastic straws and voters that need to feel they’re helping).

It’s political theater to gain power and make people feel productive. If you really wanted to have an impact on plastic waste in the world’s oceans you wouldn’t start, and certainly wouldn’t have stopped, with plastic straws.


basically banning plastic straws makes people think that something is being done about the plastic pollution in the oceans, when in fact, it will make no difference at all, it’s like trying to tackle deforestation by banning toothpicks. a picture/video of a sea turtle with a straw up it’s nose went viral and drew the sympathy of millions and politicians capitalized on it. the main offender of ocean pollution is commercial fishing vessels, but there’s too much money involved for anything to actually be done about it. even things like “sustainable seafood” “dolphin safe tuna” are all basically scams.