My personal 'straw poll': Stop the silliness

By Randall Poulton | Oct 03, 2019

A few days ago, I conducted a semi-scientific survey of curbside litter. I walked from the Union Street Hannaford (in Bangor) to Ocean State Job Lot. I looked for plastic bags and saw none. I looked for plastic straws and counted nine. It was what I wasn’t looking for really surprised me: Cigarette butts were everywhere and in astonishing numbers. After carefully analyzing my data, I concluded banning straws would do nothing reduce the incidence of lung cancer.

How did we, as a society facing monumental challenges, get to the point where our elected representatives, including many presidential wannabees, are focused on banning drinking straws? The situation is worthy of Monty Python!

Imagine the scene: a knight, in full armor and astride a warhorse, being confronted by young knave, armed with a plastic straw. The knight makes fun of the straw while the knave insists it is a deadly weapon. The classic Python “is too”-“is not” dialog ensues until finally the knight swings his broad sword, cleanly cleaving off one of the knave’s arms. Undeterred, the fool continues to brandish the straw, albeit now left-handed. In the final scene, the knave, reduced to just a head and torso, blows frantically through his straw as the knight slowly rides by.

This silliness has to stop. Straws are not dangerous weapons; nor are they anymore a threat to our environment than cigarette butts. Yet, here is a quote from Kamala Harris during the recent CNN debate: "Innovation (in straw technology) is a process ... but we do need to ban the plastic straws."

This all started with banning plastic bags at grocery stores. I love plastic bags. I reuse them for all kinds of things. And when I am done with them, I recycle the bags. OK, I am sure some slobs throw plastic bags on the ground, although I didn’t find any during my straw poll. Nor have I seen any bags along the road. I drive a lot and I have been looking for the offending bags all summer. The occasional bag I do observe is a trash bag, not a Hannaford-type bag.

I want to be clear about my pedigree: As a young man I was a bit of an environmental activist. My buddies and went to the inaugural Earth Day, smoked a lot of pot, and helped save the world. You don’t believe me? The proof is in the puddling: Despite the dire forecasts of 1970, we are all still here!

The fact is, back in the '60s and early '70s, our environment desperately needed saving. Towns, hospitals and mills used rivers as sewers, sending mercury and other God-awful waste flowing to the seas. Smokestacks belched clouds of sulfur dioxide that, on some days, created a fog that smelled like rotten eggs and literally stained the paint on houses. But those days are long gone.

So, today, with most of the environmental clean-up already done, today’s environmentalists are left with little to do. Hence the “ban the straws” movement. Ironically, the chemical formula for most plastic, including straws, is C2H4. Yup, this villainous material that supposedly threatens the world is made-up of carbon and hydrogen. Straws do not contain arsenic, lead, mercury, uranium or even sulfur!

But, of course, there are the sea turtles. Apparently, the folks in the “ban the straws brigade” are convinced sea turtles often mistake plastic straws for long slender jelly fish or malnourished lobsters. Maybe they do. But here is the thing: All the trash Americans properly dispose of either gets burned in a waste-to-energy plant or buried in a landfill. The practice of dumping garbage in the ocean was long ago outlawed. So, unless turtles crawl up onto Sawyer mountain in search of a delicious dinner of plastic straws, all should be fine!

Here is what I suggest we ban: Plastic water bottles! First of all, plastic bottles take 400 or 500 years to degrade. Second, getting the “spring” water from the industrial-size well onto the store shelves involves lots of trucks, burning lots of diesel fuel and beating up our roads. Imagine the carbon footprint!

Lastly, why do people even BUY water? Every home has more or less free city water or well water right at the tap. If you don’t like the taste of your water, purchase a Brita filter. The filtered water will taste great and the charcoal cartridge last a year or more. Fill up an ice-cold glass, stick in a nice, plastic straw and fire up a doobie. Life gets no better!

Randall Poulton, a columnist for The Republican Journal, lives in Winterport.


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