Within the past year, Marco Island, Fort Myers Beach and Sanibel have joined a growing list of coastal communities that have banned plastic straws from beaches for environmental reasons.
They’re harmful to wildlife and pollute the ocean, not to mention they’re an eyesore for beachgoers.
Our local communities join SeaWorld, Starbucks, Hyatt, American Airlines, Royal Caribbean and other corporations that have announced plans to reduce or eliminate the use of straws.
The national publication Eater declared that 2018 “might just be the year that the world kicks its plastic straw habit.” Let’s hope so. Let’s hope it’s just the start of a war on plastic.
Ocean Conservancy tracks items collected during its annual International Coastal Cleanup Day, and plastic is the biggest offender. The list, in order, includes cigarette butts, food wrappers, plastic beverage bottles, plastic bottle caps, plastic grocery bags, other plastic bags, straws, plastic takeout containers, plastic lids and foam takeout containers.
See the trend? Plastic, plastic and more plastic.
If global usage and littering of plastic continues at its current rate, the World Economic Forum estimates that oceans will contain more plastics than fish by 2050. That’s appalling.
Beyond concerns for the environment, I’d like to offer another reason to ban plastic straws – they’re bad for your health.
Plastic straws are made from polypropylene, a byproduct of petroleum that’s proven to adversely affect estrogen levels. It’s not clear how much chemical can leach into your drink, and ultimately into your body.
Sipping through straws also introduces air into the digestive tract, causing gas and bloating. It can increase the likelihood of cavities and tooth decay by directing a stream of liquid to a concentrated area. There have even been debates about whether excessive use of straws can cause wrinkles around the mouth.
Like plastic straws, there also are health concerns related to reusable plastic containers and water bottles. Many types of plastic contain Bisphenol A (BPA), an industrial chemical added during the manufacturing process to make plastic more durable. However, BPA isn’t always sealed into the plastic, allowing the toxic chemical to seep into liquid or food.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has ruled that polypropylene and BPA are relatively safe because humans aren’t ingesting the toxic chemical at high levels. The term “relatively” doesn’t offer much comfort, though. High exposure levels to BPA can impact the liver, kidneys and possibly the reproductive, nervous, immune and cardiovascular systems.
I offer myself as a research example. Like many Americans, I grew up with plastic everywhere in my home. We drank from plastic bottles, packed sandwiches in plastic bags, occasionally ate with plastic utensils and stored leftovers in plastic containers. As I learned more about the dangers of BPA and polypropylene, I began clearing my home of plastics. Yet seven years later, medical testing proved my body still contained BPA levels over the acceptable limit for humans.
The government has yet to declare medical evidence is “beyond a reasonable doubt” to precipitate a ban on the manufacturing and sales of straws and plastic containers, but scientists have introduced enough doubt to inspire lifestyle changes. Start by purchasing a stainless steel or glass straw, or ditch straws altogether and sip from the glass. Substitute ceramic or glass containers to store and heat food.
If each of us can commit to reducing our usage of plastics, we can reverse the dangerous impact on our environment while putting us on the road to a healthier lifestyle.
NOTE: It is important to consult your physician prior to making dietary and lifestyle changes. For more information, please call the Naples Center for Functional Medicine at 239-649-7400.