For a 5-year-old, many of life's minor challenges present major frustrations. Recently, I watched our family's youngest girl begin to melt down as fast as her paper straws dissolved in a soft drink at a popular microbrew restaurant. The owner had joined the faddish plastic straw ban, which gained steam last month when California passed a law that soon will ban sit-down restaurants from serving customers plastic straws.
Thirty minutes and seven waterlogged paper straws later, Mom went to the car and brought back the sippy cup, which contains enough plastic to gag a pelican.
Just like those paper straws, the argument against plastic is flimsy. In August, Gov. Murphy vetoed a bill that would have placed a 5-cent fee on plastic grocery bags, calling for a "more robust and comprehensive" plan and signaling his support for an outright plastic ban.
Supporters of the plastics ban say that every year, more than 35 million tons of plastic pollution is produced worldwide and about a quarter of that ends up in the water. They show you the video of a bloody straw being extracted from a sea turtle's nostril, and scream about idiots who let plastic bags drift into trees.
The problem is not straws and bags. It's microplastics.
Microplastics are the degraded particles sometimes seen floating as giant globs in the ocean being devoured by fish and seabirds.
So, eating fish filled with microplastics means seabirds can ingest as much as 8 percent of their body weight in plastic, which "is equivalent to the average woman having the weight of two babies in her stomach," says Denise Hardesty of Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation.
The "straws suck" crowd doesn't show us that. They show you the sea turtle because it's visceral.
So when Murphy calls for a broader ban on plastics, he's acting like a typical politician: supporting feel-good legislation that doesn't do much to actually solve a problem.
Environmental scientists estimate that straws probably account for 0.03 percent of total plastic waste by mass.
Three-hundreths of 1 percent. That's not much.
Remember when every media outlet in the world let you know that Starbucks was banning straws for the good of the planet?
Yay. We solved the problem by banning straws. Go us. Let's celebrate with a triple pump chai latte.
Except that, as Christian Britschgi of Reason Magazine, notes: "Starbucks will actually be increasing its plastic use. As it turns out, the new nitro lids that Starbucks is leaning on to replace straws are made up of more plastic than the company's current lid/straw combination."
And what about plastic bags? Paper bags actually create more pollution than plastic.
Banning straws and bags is not the answer.
So what is the solution? To start, only one-fifth of plastics are recycled. If that cannot be overcome, then there will certainly be a free market solution as the marketplace demands one.
But the true answer lies in the massive industrial uses of plastics, and China and Indonesia dumping plastic into the oceans. The United States is responsible for 0.9 percent of "mismanaged plastic waste" entering the oceans. Less than 1 percent. China is responsible for about 28 percent.
Banning straws and bags is easy. The problem is that people will feel as though they're helping to save the oceans, while the impact will be as worthless as that limp paper straw your 5-year-old managed to wreck within 30 seconds.
Rick Jensen is an award-winning talk-show host on 101.7 FM and 1150 AM WDEL in Wilmington.