Have you ever ordered a sandwich without mayo only to lift up the bread, when it arrives, and see a massive white smear underneath?
This is how I feel about straws. When I go out, I ask for my drink without a straw. I don’t need it and I’ll use it for all of 20 minutes before it ends up in the trash. If I can save 100 pounds of plastic over my lifetime by eschewing straws, I’m all for it.
But this seemingly simple task is actually quite difficult. About 60% of the time that I say, “no straw please,” my drink comes with a straw anyway. During one particularly frustrating evening at an Indian restaurant in Singapore, I said, “no straw” to each of the 4 mango lassis I ordered, and every single one came with a straw.
And this doesn’t just apply to straws. In New York over the weekend, I got in a mildly heated discussion with a Subway employee when I refilled my water bottle and she said it wasn’t allowed. She said that even having my open container near the soda fountain could contaminate it. She suggested I use a brand new cup. When I asked her how it’d get contaminated she fumbled around for a bit, admitted that she didn’t know and then said, it’s policy.
This debate lasted so long that people started to stare, and as usual I left and felt sad that people would probably just think I was difficult. I was surprised when I walked out the door and a group of girls looked over at me and said, “we would have reacted the same way.” “Really?” I asked. “Yeah, her argument didn’t make any sense at all.” I felt relieved. At least three people really understood what I was getting at.
It makes me wonder how we expect people to “do the right thing,” when doing the right thing is so difficult. Do we expect people to argue over plastic bags and haggle over straws every time they go out? Even when people are late and in a hurry? Even when they’re distracted or preoccupied? What message does this send? To me it sends the message to give up.
We’re bombarded with “you can save the environment” campaigns, but in practice, this often becomes a Sisyphean undertaking.