IT’S not unusual. You go into a bar, a cafe or somewhere else and ask for a simple drink.
But when it arrives, more often or not, it is adorned with a plastic drinking straw. Either the wee piddly ones no use to anybody, or the big stripy affair, because clearly you’re incapable of holding a glass.
Okay, okay. It may have been all the rage once. It might be fun for kids. And adults, for the matter, sending alcohol into the bloodstream more quickly. But at what cost to the planet?
According to Kate Forbes MSP, who sits on the Scottish Parliament’s Environment, Climate Change and Reform Committee, plastic straws are among those items that can take up to 500 years to decompose, despite only being used for less than half an hour.
Instead they litter the landscape, find their way into the see, lurk in landfill, with no real value previously, save to the manufacturers profiting or care and medical cases with a need for them or their paper alternatives.
Now MSP Forbes, is calling for a ban after officially launching her Final Straw campaign earlier today.
The MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch MSP – whose constituency covers the east and west coasts of Scotland – is highlighting the damage caused by single-use disposable plastic items to both the onshore and marine environment in Scotland.
She wants to see a ban on plastic straws, as well as encouraging consumers and businesses to change their drinking habits.
To mark the official launch, she went to the Royal Hotel in Cromarty, one of the first businesses in her constituency to ditch plastic straws in favour of paper biodegradable ones.
And she explained why it was so important to her.
She said: “I represent a constituency which stretches from the east to the west coasts and I can see the impact of plastics on our seas.
“Along our coastline, plastics are choking our seas, damaging the environment and risking the lives of seabirds and sea creatures.
“One of the most common plastic items on the beach are plastic straws. We could be throwing out just under £3 billion straws every year in Scotland, based on US estimates of people using an average of 1.6 straws per day every year.”
She continued: “The pub chain Wetherspoons have indicated that they consume 70 million straws a year in the UK and so the figures are huge.
“The ridiculous thing is that most people don’t ask for a straw and they don’t want one, but pubs and restaurants automatically pop it in their glass. That plastic straw could end up in our seas, causing damage to wildlife.”
The MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch continued: “Some restaurants and hotels have already done something about this, including the Royal Hotel in Cromarty.
“The owner Jenny Henderson decided to switch to paper straws over Christmas as she was inspired by the primary school pupils in Ullapool who have made Ullapool the first straw-free village in Scotland.
“Any ban has got to be UK-wide, because the sea does not respect country borders and plastic straws washed out to sea in the south of England could easily end up on the Highland coastline.
“That’s why my campaign to calls on both the UK and Scottish Governments to crack down on plastic straws as part of an overall strategy to ban single-use, disposable items such as cotton buds and throwaway cutlery, where environmentally friendly alternatives exist.”
She remains in determined mood, challenging others to get on board.
She said: “Before the Christmas recess, I asked the Scottish Government to look at the issue of plastic straws and the Cabinet Secretary said that the Scottish Government were considering a number of options.
“As part of my campaign I am asking pubs and restaurants to stop handing out straws automatically and to only provide biodegradable alternatives.
“Chains like Wetherspoons and individual businesses like the Royal Hotel have already done that and I hope others will follow their lead.
“If you agree that Governments should take more action on plastic straws and that restaurants and pubs should stop stocking plastic straws, then you can sign up to my campaign petition at finalstraw.scot”
Jenny Henderson, owner of the Royal Hotel in Cromarty, said their was a marginbal cost to her business to sweep to less harmful products – but one she was willing to pay.
She added: “Through social media, I saw the campaign started by Ullapool and Sunnyside Primary Schools and was impressed that they’d made Ullapool the first plastic-straw-free village in Scotland – and I thought ‘we can do that too’.
“Plastic straws are single use and the majority end up in our seas.
“We’re on the shores of the Cromarty Firth and have a large population of resident bottlenose dolphins so this is a huge concern.
“We all need to do our bit to protect our marine wildlife and I hope others will follow suit.
“Making the change from plastic to paper straws has led to positive feedback from our customers.
“Although paper straws are more expensive, I’m happy to absorb the additional cost.”
The call is also being supported by the Marine Conservation Society.
Scotland conservation officer Catherine Gemmell said: “It is fantastic to see MSP Kate Forbes call for a ban on plastic straws as they are one of the many single-use plastic items that we find rising in numbers on our beaches, in our seas and impacting our wildlife.
“A straw is only used for minutes, yet will remain in the environment and our oceans for hundreds of years to come.
“This is why at MCS we are also calling on all the Governments of the UK to put in place a levy on other single-use items such as cutlery and coffee cups to reduce the amount of plastic in use.
“Our seas should not have to pay the price for a throw-away culture, and any move to reduce the amount of single use plastic items being thrown away is good news for our seas and wildlife.
“It was incredible to see school pupils taking the lead on this issue before Christmas with Sunnyside and Ullapool Primary helping Ullapool village go plastic straw free – if Ullapool can go plastic straw free why can’t Scotland?”
MSP Forbes hopes others will now get involved.
She said: “As part of my campaign I am asking pubs and restaurants to stop handing out straws automatically and to only provide biodegradable alternatives.
“Chains like Wetherspoons and individual businesses like the Royal Hotel in Cromarty have already done that and I hope others will follow their lead.
“Our seas are rich with wildlife. The Highland east coast is home to the world’s most northern pod of bottlenose dolphins and Scotland has the highest number of harbour porpoises in Europe.
“But the majority of seabirds are ingesting plastics and other sea creatures are being injured and suffocated by our plastic pollution.
“If you agree that Governments should take more action on plastic straws and that restaurants and pubs should stop stocking plastic straws, sign up to my campaign petition at finalstraw.scot”.
WANT TO LEARN MORE? Read: The Final Straw campaign website
IMAGE CREDITS: Kate Forbes MSP/The Final Straw