By ONG JING WEN and BITRIN SOLUNGIN

Ever heard the phrase “Small but mighty”? This describes the role of plastic straws, which may be small but are extremely harmful to the environment and wildlife.

According to Ocean Conservancy, a non-profit environmental advocacy group based in Washington, DC, plastic has been found in 62% of all sea birds and in all sea turtle species.

Every year, volunteers around the world gather at the Ocean Conservancy’s international coastal cleanup event to collect trash and tally up what they find.

Straws come under the top 10 types of trash found in the world’s oceans, with an estimated 611,048 straws found annually.

In 2015, a group of marine biologists in Costa Rica found a sea turtle with a plastic straw lodged in its nostril. The straw was about 10cm long. That incident served as another stark reminder of how plastic straws can harm marine life. So actually, that phrase “small but mighty” can be changed to “small but deadly” when it comes to the effect of plastic straws on sea creatures.

Marine species are attracted by plastic, thinking that the colourful material is a source of food. However, most plastics do not biodegrade in the ocean (even those labelled biodegradable), while others merely break down into microplastics (an almost invisible enemy).

straw

A whale-shaped art installation made of plastic and trash made by environmental activist group Greenpeace Philippines, lies along the shore in Naic, Cavite, in the Philippines, May 12, 2017. Photo: Reuters

Even if you don’t care about turtles, whales or birds choking on plastic, you may want to remember that our garbage will often boomerang back to us.

This is because when fish or clams consume microplastics, and humans eat them – the microplastics end back up in our bodies!

With the growing concern about the harmful effects of plastics straws, Sampah Menyampah, a voluntary eco group, has started the #TakNakStraw campaign to encourage the community not to use plastic straws.

For starters, why not just drink straight from the cup instead of using a straw?

However, if you really still want to use a straw, please consider alternatives like bamboo or stainless steel straws.

You can also have some fun making your own paper straw. Here’s how:

Tools

1. Paraffin wax
2. Normal non-toxic white glue/gelatin glue/corn starch glue
3. Chopsticks or even existing straws
4. Paper (preferably sturdier A4 paper)
5. A bottle/jar (must be higher than half the straw)
6. Scissors
7. Boiler/cooking pot
8. Paper towel

Method

1. Place the wax inside a bottle. Fill the boiler with water until it is almost full. Put bottle into the boiler (Do NOT boil the wax directly in the boiler).

2. Turn the heat to medium-low until the wax melts.

3. Choose paper that is less absorbent than wax and cut the paper into strips of about 4cm wide and 30cm long.

4. Decorate one half of the paper (across the length of it) with edible ink.

5. Put a thin layer of glue on one end of the paper strip.

6. Place the chopstick at an angle of approximately 15-20 degrees on the other end of the strip and start rolling the paper. If the angle is too big, spirals are closer to each other and vice versa. At the end, stick the edges of the paper together (but not too tightly as it will be very hard to remove the chopstick after that).

7. Pull the chopstick out of the paper and trim the sharp, rolled up edges with scissors.

8. Dip the straw into the melted wax for two to three seconds.

9. Remove and place it on a paper towel to wipe off the excess wax gently.

10. Do the same with the other end of the straw until it is completely covered with wax.

Other than paper straws, bamboo straws are another eco-friendly alternative. Bamboo straws are usually made from thin bamboo stalks and also have antibacterial properties.

As for stainless steel straws, these can be carried around easily without fear of breakage. Or just stop using straws lah.