Karl the Curmudgeon Hates Strawless Lids

"Can you believe this BS, Kid?" Karl said to me. We were at Books & Beans, our favorite book-themed coffee shop for an afternoon pick-me-up. Our barista had dropped off our iced lattes in plastic cups with what looked like sippy cup lids.

What's the problem? I asked.

"Why does everyone hate plastic straws these days?"

Do you not read the news? I said. Do you not care about the environment?

"Why are you talking that way? Who are you, Shakespeare?"

Drinketh thou thy coffee and mocketh me not, I said. What I'm saying is that plastic is bad for the environment, and people are trying to keep it from getting into the ocean. Don't you care about the environment?

"You mean, 'do I not care?'" said Karl. I scratched my forehead with my middle finger, a gesture that clearly showed contempt and displeasure to even the most obtuse observers.

"Of course I care. I've been doing my part to help the environment since the '80s."

Wearing the same clothes for 30 years is not helping the environment.

"First of all, yes, it does. Second, this t-shirt is not from the '80s. My daughter got it for me. She said it's retro. She's also been lecturing me about plastic straws, so I know why they're bad."

"She" was Alexis, Karl's organic vegan anti-chemical evangelist daughter turned business savant, now in her first year of her MBA degree.

But you're not convinced?

"I just don't see why people are all up in arms about straws now."

Straws get into the oceans and break down. The bits of plastic are swallowed by fish and sea animals and it's killing them. Remember that news photo of the turtle with the straw up its nose?

"I understand that, but it's not just the straws."

But people use so many straws. It's an easy fix to a big problem.

"That's just it," said Karl. "Straws are only .03 percent of the ocean's entire plastic pollution. That doesn't mean we shouldn't do something, but people are too busy patting themselves on the back to notice the thing they're banning isn't the biggest problem. It's like blowing out a candle when your house is on fire."

It's still a lot of plastic, I protested. Think of the millions of straws people use just in fast food places. Even this place eliminated what must have been thousands of straws per year.

"And replaced it with what, this?" Karl held up his sippy cup lid. "Where do you think this is going to end up? How many straws' worth of plastic are in this cup and lid? I'm using way more plastic with this one drink than if they'd just given me 30 straws. Plus this place doesn't even have recycling. If that isn't the biggest 'we had to destroy the village in order to save it" bone-headed decision, I don't know what is."

We should be drinking from glass anyway. That's reusable.

"True, but what about people who can't lift a glass? I've got a friend who's got MS and she's lost most of the grip strength in her hands. She can't easily lift a 16 ounce cup because she might drop it. She needs a straw just to drink anything."

What about those reusable stainless steel straws? You can bring your own straw with you and just wash it out when you're done.

"You mean the same people who have trouble holding onto a cup in the first place? They have trouble gripping the straw and the brush, so that's a no go."

What about paper straws?

"Sure, that's a good solution, but they don't last beyond a second refill before they get too mushy. They're a good start, but there are still too many single-use plastics, like water bottles and soda bottles, or these to-go cups."

Well, aren't you just a ray of sunshine today?

"Aren't I just? Look, I just read in The Guardian that the new Starbucks strawless lids use 4.11 grams of plastic, but one straw only uses .42 grams of plastic. So you need 10 straws to make one plastic lid. How does this actually help the plastic straw situation?"

Because straws aren't recyclable; Starbucks' lids are made from polypropylene, which is. I jabbed my finger on the table with a flourish of victory.

"That's if it's actually recycled. But only 9% of the world's plastic is recycled, which is why there's so much of it in the oceans in the first place. So we're right back where we started."

So are you saying we shouldn't even bother?

"No, we have to try. But the more important thing is that just 100 companies are responsible for 71 percent of global emissions, and that Coca-Cola and PepsiCo are two of the 20 biggest ocean plastics polluters in the world. If we really wanted to make a difference in reducing ocean plastics, we'd crackdown on those companies and all their pollution instead of freaking out about straws.

You know, I really just wanted to sit and drink my coffee and read my book.

"Why do you have a paper book instead of an electronic one?" Karl said.

Shut up and drink your coffee, I said, scratching my forehead again.

Photo credit: Me, Erik Deckers. I took that photo.

My new humor novel, Mackinac Island Nation, is finished and available on Amazon. You can get the Kindle version here or the paperback version here.