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Explore our latest coverage of environmental issues, climate change and more.

Weis: The Last Straw

Russ Weis
NVU-Johnson student Lindsey Levoy shows off her metal straw.

Einstein famously said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” And lately, I’ve been trying to apply that deceptively simple-sounding bit of wisdom to the significant environmental problem of accumulating plastic.
According to the Center For Biological Diversity, in the Los Angeles area alone ten metric tons of plastic fragments from everyday items like grocery bags, soda bottles, and straws are carried into the Pacific Ocean every day.

As a result, billions of pounds of plastic can be found in swirling convergences making up about 40 percent of the world's ocean surfaces. And all this not only has a deadly effect on marine wildlife, but also harms people when the toxins released by the breakdown of plastic are passed up through the foodchain.

The scope of the problem is truly enormous. But some corrective measures that looked small to begin with, in the end may help in a big way – like passing laws curtailing the use of plastic straws.

In fact, cities including Seattle and San Francisco have already legally banned them – and many restaurants and sport venues are reconsidering their use. There’s even fresh interest in substituting more firm paper straws for the plastic kind.

A better idea, though - one that I’m sure Einstein would’ve been proud of - is the reusable metal straw for those times when a straw is simply a necessity. A former environmental student of mine bought one recently, and now she’s giving them out to friends as gifts and touting them on social media!

When the movie The Graduate first debuted in 1967, the film’s young protagonist was told in one memorable scene that the best field for an upwardly-mobile college graduate was plastics. But times change, and today we all need to graduate – from our debilitating dependence on plastics, that is.

If we don’t, words spoken by the seductive Mrs. Robinson in that same film may well become humanity’s epitaph.

“It’s too late,” she said, near movie's end.

Hopefully, not. But if humankind’s ultimate downfall were brought about by the rising tide of man-made disposable polymers – well - that would be the last straw indeed.

Russ Weis advises first-year students at Northern Vermont University in Johnson, where he also teaches writing and works closely with two student environmental groups.
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