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Adam Minter

Plastic Straws Aren’t the Problem

Skipping straws may be hip. But there are much better ways to fight pollution.

They’re fine.

They’re fine.

Photographer: Patrick Pleul/DPA

New York's top cocktail bars are facing something of a crisis. A fashionable global protest movement has nightlife venues scrambling to replace their plastic straws with more sustainable alternatives, such as paper ones, on the theory that doing so will reduce plastic waste in the oceans. It all sound virtuous -- but in reality, it's likely to make matters worse. Straws make up a trifling percentage of the world's plastic products, and campaigns to eliminate them will not only be ineffective, but could distract from far more useful efforts.

The anti-straw movement took off in 2015, after a video of a sea turtle with a straw stuck in its nose went viral. Campaigns soon followed, with activists often citing studies of the growing ocean plastics problem. Intense media interest in the so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch -- a floating, France-sized gyre of oceanic plastic -- only heightened the concern.