Most Americans agree that businesses should be cutting back on plastic straws, according to a new poll from market research firm Ipsos and BuzzFeed News. That's good news for anyone looking to reduce single-use plastic pollution, as the survey also found that a full 96 percent of respondents had used a plastic straw.
But how much do straws actually contribute to pollution? More than two-thirds of participants believed straws were "major contributors," and almost three-quarters thought they were harmful to wildlife. But as David M. Perry wrote for Pacific Standard in May, there are much more dangerous sources of plastic pollution:
The oddly singular focus on straws may date back to a a viral 2015 video of a sea turtle with a bloody plastic straw embedded in its nose. The video is horrific. But again, scholars have not identified straws as a particularly grave threat to marine wildlife. The authors of a 2016 study in Marine Policy asked a wide array of experts to rank the items that pose the greatest threats to animal well-being, and found that "fishing-related gear, balloons, and plastic bags were estimated to pose the greatest entanglement risk to marine fauna. In contrast, experts identified a broader suite of items of concern for ingestion, with plastic bags and plastic utensils ranked as the greatest threats." Despite the threat that balloons genuinely pose, Gabrielle Peters, a disabled writer living in Vancouver, points out on Twitter that the Vancouver Park Board defeated an attempt to ban them in 2017.
While less than half of respondents supported a government mandated ban on straws—like those imposed recently by Seattle and Santa Barbara—nearly 80 percent of respondents supported companies switching to biodegradable straws, and 75 percent said they'd support an opt-in policy, in which straws are provided upon request.
As Perry noted, outright bans can lead to accessibility issues for disabled consumers who rely on straws. But the survey shows there's already ample support for the kinds of policies that could preserve both the environment and access for people with disabilities.