Photo: Phoebe Sheehan, Albany Times Union
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TROY — In this polarized, politicized country of ours, the humble little plastic straw has become both flash point and symbol as governments across the land try to banish it from existence.
For some on the political left, plastic straws are the new cigarettes, despised and used only by the unwashed and unenlightened. The right, by contrast, is embracing plastic straws as a symbol of American freedom, as vital to democracy as Rush Limbaugh and the constitution. Donald Trump even sells plastic straws on his website — a pack of 10 for $15. What a deal.
It is all more than a little silly in a country that seems consumed by silliness. Still, I do understand why more than a few of you are annoyed by the war on plastic straws, which came recently to Troy as the Plastic-Free Hudson River Act.
While ocean pollution is a real and distressing problem, plastic straws are but a minor contributor. Banning them will have no meaningful effect on cleaning our seas, not so long as we’re awash in other forms of plastic. And anybody who has been to a child’s birthday party — or, for that matter, a supermarket — can plainly see our addiction to plastic in all its many forms.
So why target the humble little straw?
Plastic straw bans feel good, and they allow politicians to claim moral high ground without actually accomplishing something meaningful or difficult. At best, the laws are symbolic. They can also feel like nanny-state excess.
But for me, at least, there’s another side to the issue that elicits a small point that I will attempt to make humbly and meekly. Here it is:
I DO NOT WANT A &$##@$^@# STRAW!!!!
Anywhere I go where beverages are served, somebody is handing me a straw or sticking one in my drink unbidden. Order a glass of water at a restaurant and it comes with a straw removed from its paper wrapper, save for a little piece at the top. At Starbucks, McDonald’s and a zillion other places, straws are an automatic, unrequested part of the order.
My lips work normally, so far as I can tell, and they seem to be great at sipping beverages. My arms are strong enough to lift said glass to said lips. I am not four-years old, so sipping through a straw offers no real thrill. And I do not wear lipstick, most days, so smearing and smudging is not an issue. One more time:
I DO NOT WANT A &$##@$ STRAW!!!!
Now, I understand that straws are a godsend for people with certain disabilities and afflictions, and I will not for a second begrudge those people their use. If you need a straw, really and truly, suck without guilt and enjoy every second.
But for the rest of us: The human race managed to get by without plastic straws for, oh, about six million years, so they aren’t a necessity now. God and evolution gave us lips wonderfully designed for drinking. Let’s use them!
It’s the frivolousness of plastic straws that makes their ubiquitousness is so annoying. They are an apt symbol of wastefulness for a society that has embraced the throwaway culture, in all its horrible forms. Polluted oceans are only one negative result.
The solution lies in a conservative approach toward consumption and thrift and a culture that looks askance at plastic waste — and all waste. That’s not a big ask; it’s how humanity lived until not so long ago.
Here’s how Matthew Walther, writing for The Week, put it: “What we really need is a revolution, or rather a restoration, of our habits, a revival of a way of life that has almost completely vanished. We need a return to permanence.”
As I said, Straw Wars are being fought far and near, including, recently, in our lovely little city of Troy. There, at least, the war wasn’t even much of a battle. The City Council unanimously passed the Plastic-Free Hudson River Act last month, supported by Republicans and Democrats alike.
In part, that’s because the law, which also targets the use of polystyrene and plastic bags, is just a mild attack on plastic straws. It still allows restaurants to hand them out, but only upon request. Notably, the legislation won’t force the use of paper straws, which are widely and rightly loathed.
The law is a small step and difficult to enforce. And sure, it won’t have really have an impact on the amount of garbage that finds its way into the Hudson — or the garbage that piles up in Troy’s alleys. But it should, at least, keep me from getting straws I didn’t ask for and won’t use.
I DO NOT WANT A … well, I should probably stop yelling.
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