Plastic Straws from the 90s

My mother loves handicraft. In the late 90s, she spent most of her free time looking for recyclable common household items to make creative home decors. There were jewellery boxes made of toothpaste cover, hand phone holders made of toilet paper rolls, and more. When I was in preschool, I adored her pink roses. They aren’t regular roses that grows out of soil. They are roses made from drinking straws, nicely rolled into hexagonal shapes and arranged in a small vase. Such an applaudable craftsmanship it was, it ended up on our television shelf.

As a Malaysian pre-schooler, I couldn’t go a day without drinking Milo. During recess, my mother would buy my favourite “Milo Ais Ikat Tepi” which I drank using plastic straws. Then, the plastic trash would be thrown away into the dustbin. Back then, I didn’t even bother to know about where the refuse goes, particularly those plastic straws.

Years have passed since, and I’ve graduated from university with a bachelor’s degree. A lot of things have changed in my family, not to mention the country which has seen four prime ministers since my childhood. Changes are constant. However, there are certain things that never fragment by time, such as my mother’s passion for handicraft. My taste buds for Milo. Also, the straw roses on the television shelf.

Certainly, some changes are good, and some are even necessary; but some changes will take much longer to occur – like plastic straws which will take up to 200 years to decompose. Little did I know that every single plastic straw that I’ve ever thrown away in my life are still existing somewhere.

But where are they now?

Well, some are buried deep under our modernized cities, slowly breaking down and releasing chemicals which are toxic to the environment. Some are floating in the ocean. To make matters worse, some are eaten by marine animals and seabirds, causing indigestion, internal bleeding which eventually leads to painful dead.

In fact, plastic straws are one of the most common ocean trashes. Remember the heart-breaking video of a marine biologist team removing a plastic straw, stuck in a sea turtle’s nose back in August 2015? That viral video was a big slap in the face for people who have been ignorant about the brutal, negative impact of plastic straws.

Have you ever wondered how did the plastic straws get into the ocean? Don’t be surprised. In fact, there’s a lot of random objects floating in our oceans. If you look closer into the marine trash, chances are high that you can discover Maggi hot cups, sanitary pads and even deflated footballs. How much more with such light weighted plastic straws!

These plastics will eventually come back to us. How? Once they break down into microplastics, they get eaten up by marine life. Hence, these microplastics enter the human food chain through the seafood we consume.

We Malaysians want everything to be fast and convenient. Most of the time, we fail to think about choices we make. Of course, we don’t naturally develop any sort of emotional attachment with single-use plastics. When we have our Starbucks Cappuccino or Milo Ais Ikat Tepi, we will just dump the plastic straw away, not being aware of where it goes.

Thankfully, many countries around the world have started banning single-use plastics. Here’s better news – Malaysia is joining on board soon!

In my opinion, the ban on the use of plastic straws should be aimed at traders and operators of food outlets, as they carry major responsibilities in making ethical decisions for the consumers. At the same time, the general public should be educated about single-use plastics.

Besides, there are a few eco-friendly alternatives in place of plastic straws. One can easily obtain a bamboo, glass or stainless-steel straw, which can be carried along, washed and reused. Or, we can just drink from the brim of the cup.

So, are we really heading towards a straw-less future?

Perhaps, time and our consistent efforts will tell.

Perhaps one day, when my hair turns grey, I will tell my grandchildren about the roses my mother made from plastic straws. Perhaps, they will ask me ‘What is a plastic straw’?

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