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We're finding out that plastic ain't so fantastic after all.

Wait a minute. You mean I wasn't crazy after all?

Decades ago, living in Atlanta as a 21-year-old hapless hayseed from Rockingham, I - unbelievably to me - had a girlfriend.

She had a five-year-old son who was my main competitor for her attention, but the dude was always trying to kneecap me and played dirty to do it.

He accomplished his goal of getting rid of me after breakfast one Saturday morning.

Kid: Mom, why does he - he never referred to me by name - always leave his cup on the sink?

Her: I don't know. Crazy, I guess.

And I was sitting right there!!!

T'is true that, after drinking water from a plastic cup, I would leave the cup on the sink instead of throwing it in the trash - you know, in case I wanted to drink more water later.

To her and him, though, the correct move would have been to simply toss the plastic cup into the trash after one use and grab another each time you needed one. Not only was that expensive, but it seemed injurious to the planet even in the pre-recycling 1980s.

Well, now that scientists estimate that some plastics may take centuries - if ever - to decompose in the local landfill, conscientious citizens are becoming less profligate with plastic cups, wrap, bottles, everything,.

But it's plastic straws, not cups, that have been politically weaponized to show on which side of the culture war you stand.

President Trump's campaign is making major paper off of his opposition to paper straws, which some environmentalists are pushing as a way to slow our destruction of the planet. His 2020 reelection campaign reported that it has made almost $700,000 in one month from selling "Trump" plastic straws as a repudiation of "liberal paper straws."

Reelection communications director Tim Murtaugh told the Washington Post "People don’t like being told they can’t do simple things, and so the Trump straws were born.”

OY! N.C. State University is one of the nation's leaders in sustainability and recycling, but officials in its Waste Reduction and Recycling department were preparing for the arrival of students and didn't have time to talk when I called.

That's cool. But there is copious information available about the deleterious impact of plastic on the environment. We're talking documentaries and scholarly papers on the subject.

According to 4Ocean, a company that claims to have removed one ton of plastic and glass from the ocean in the two years since its founding, it takes 200 years for a plastic straw to decompose.

That's a drop in the ocean compared to how long it takes a plastic cup: You're looking at 1,000 years for that.

It takes two to four weeks for a biodegradable paper straw to decompose.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy report predicts that by 2050 there could be, by weight, more plastic in the world’s oceans than fish.

Please, read that sentence again.

I thought about that fateful day in that Atlanta kitchen recently when reading about a 15-foot, 1,100 pound whale that died of dehydration and starvation because its stomach was packed with 80 plastic bags. In Thailand recently, a dugong, a preternaturally cute but rare animal you may have never heard of, died because of the undigestible plastic clogging its belly.

Whatever you do, don't go on the internet and look at the marine biologist pulling a plastic straw from a sea turtle's nostril.

Sure, we as Americans are each imbued with a God-given right to degrade the planet in order to "own the libs," but there are alternatives to plastic straws: bamboo, paper, glass, straw.

Yes, straw straws. And don't forget the sippy cup.

There's an old saying - I think it's from Shakespeare - about chocolate cake that goes:

A second on the lips

an eternity on the hips.

Here's another one that someone - okay, I - wrote about plastic cups:

A second to take a sip

an eternity in a landfill or in the ocean where it'll probably strangle some majestic animal.

Any little thing we do is better than nothing, even if it's using the same plastic cup more than twice or eschewing straws the next time you grab a fountain drink from the Quik Sak. That's a cup or straw that won't end up in a dugong's belly or wrapped around the beak of a bird.

I fear that if ever a culture war erupts - Straw Wars? - it won't be started by the bombing of Ft. Sumter, like our first Civil War was, but by someone at the Piggly Wiggly giving the wrong response to "Paper or plastic?"

That will be the last straw.

(Sorry. I'll show myself out.)




Meet Barry Saunders

For over 20 years, Barry was a columnist for The News & Observer in Raleigh, NC. He also wrote for other publications, such as the Atlanta Constitution and the Richmond County Daily Journal. Often described as powerfully honest and illustratively funny, Barry's writing is both loved and hated by readers- sometimes simultaneously.  


Want more? Get your own copy of one of Barry's published books featuring reader favorites (and not so favorites) from his years writing columns for The News & Observer. Titled "Do Unto Others...And then Run" and "...And The Horse You Rode In On Saunders!", they're full of guaranteed entertainment. 


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