Bob Dunning: The last straw? Litter, litter everywhere

Although I’m not likely to be named Environmentalist of the Year any time soon, my dad did impress upon all his kids that littering was never acceptable, even in the most remote of locations.

This was mostly because Dad regarded littering as rude and disgusting, not because he was worried that the occasional gum wrapper was going to harm the environment or prove fatal to an unsuspecting sea mammal.

Nothing can ruin a hike in the woods like tripping over a discarded beer can or coming around the bend to encounter someone’s sloppy fast food wrappers in the middle of the trail.

For some reason, though, these days plastic straws have risen to the top of the list of things certain folks want banned.

I was apparently way ahead of my time, for I have always detested straws of any kind, but not because of any concern for our good Earth. Or, as every environmentalist is required to call it: the planet.

The reason I hate straws is that they limit how much liquid you can take in with a single gulp. This is why you never see anyone drinking beer with a straw.

Likewise, a straw makes consuming a good milkshake almost impossible, though it may keep you from sporting an unsightly strawberry mustache if you drink it straight.

This brings me to the good folks at Keep America Beautiful, a national nonprofit dedicated to ending litter. I think they planned to sell hats saying “Make America Green Again,” but those initials were already taken.

According to Noah Ullman, CMO of the organization, “Straws are getting a lot of news, but on a volume basis, straws are literally a drop in the bucket.”
According to USA Today, “Plastic straws didn’t even make it into the organization’s top five most common forms of litter.”

Turns out cigarette butts are Public Enemy No. 1, followed by paper, food wrappers, confections and napkins/tissues.

According to the Ocean Conservancy, during its Coastal Cleanup day last September volunteers worldwide collected 2.4 million cigarette butts.

The state of Oregon, in fact, banned smoking on the state’s gorgeous beaches not because people were offended by having to breathe cigarette smoke, but because many smokers continue to regard the endless sand as their personal ashtray.

Heck, forget beaches. I’ve seen people drive into grocery store parking lots, pull out their car ashtrays and dump the entire contents on the pavement in broad daylight as if that’s where it belongs.

Also high on the list were 1.6 million plastic water bottles, which is a sure sign of just how crazy people have become about hydration.

Plastic bottle caps collected came in at 1.1 million, with straws and stirrers far down the list at 643,562. Yes, there’s apparently someone counting every last one of them.

Of course, there’s probably 100 times that much stuff on the world’s beaches if the volunteers had managed to cover every square mile.

Just for fun, volunteers also found 9,065 appliances, 1,737 toothbrushes, 152 shopping carts, 87 mattresses, 38 toilets and three hot tubs.

I don’t know what’s worse for the environment, 643,000 straws or 9,000 refrigerators, but if we have to ban one or the other, I’m going with straws.

With a broad exception, of course, for the significant number of people who actually need them to insure proper nutrition and hydration.

As always, a ban doesn’t have to be absolute to be effective.

— Reach Bob Dunning at [email protected]