One day, many years from now, one of your descendants may wander up to you, to ask you a question. They will approach you, you, the wisened elder of your family, as you sit together in the sort of wattle-and-daub yurt - that you've assembled from glossy magazines retrieved from a landfill and your own families stored excrement - following the collapse of civilisation as we know it. They will look up at you with their small, bright, curious eyes and hold out their hand to proffer something.
"Grandpapa," they will say, "I have been scavenging for food in Great Mother Landfill, and I found this. I see them everywhere, but what is it?" You reach one gnarled, trembling hand forward to retrieve what they are offering to you. You roll the long, thin tube of plastic between your fingers. A sad smile will play about your lips, for it has been many years since you have seen one up close, for it has been many years since you were young and well enough to venture out onto Great Mother Landfill to scrabble among the vast sea of debris for food and supplies.
You will explain to them, your voice thin and raspy that "This, this young child is a 'straw'."
As you stare with milky, weary eyes at their confused expression, you would smile, with genuine mirth this time, at their bewilderment. "But what is it for, grandpapa?" They would ask.
"Tell me what you think it is for, dear child." They would take it back in their hands, peering through the hole, gently squeezing and pressing it, as if trying to wring out some evidence of its purpose. Eventually they may say, "I do not know grandpapa, but I presume, given how many of them are out there, how many thousands of them I have seen, that they must have been vitally important before The Collapse. Perhaps they were something to do with buildings? Or did they used to hold- what did you call it? - 'the internet'?"
Your smile would broaden, for even in a post-apocalyptic wasteland where you're forced to live in a rudimentary hut made of old copies of 'Hello' magazine and your own shit, the pure innocence of youth can still bring joy. And you would say to them, "No dear child, they, these 'straws', were simply for drinking?"
"But, but, but," the child would stammer, "Why? There are so many of them. Did people not just drink how we drink? By using an old wellington boot to scoop water from a rainpool while trying to fend off any of the more aggressive engorged sewer rats?"
"No dear child, back then, before The Collapse, straws were widely used. I suppose we began using them for hygiene reasons. Back when people drank out of shared glasses, if you weren't sure if the glass was clean, it made sense to use a disposable straw. Then however, we invited Finish 4-in-1, so we no longer had to worry about dirty glasses. After that, I suppose - though there were some who needed them for medical reasons - most people used them for convenience. Some people I think used them because drinking cold drinks made their teeth hurt a bit? So they would use disposable plastic straws so that they could have their drinks cold. Even though they were gaining momentary convenience, most of these people still sort of knew that the straw they were using would probably end up clogging the blow-hole of a dolphin. You'd be surprised how many of them were able to reconcile that to themselves. That was the world we lived in, and then, straws helped ruin everything" you would conclude.
The small child, in its burlap rags, would look up at you with sad eyes. You would see the pain etched across their face, before they looked down at the straw in their hand. They would look around them, at their home, made of actual human shit and old magazines that have been sort of mashed together. They would stare at an old, curled page from a copy of 'Ok! Magazine', still visible in one wall, that showed Hale Berry being papped leaving a jazzercise class in 2016. And they would look back up at you and ask, through the tears, "Grandpapa, what's a dolphin?"
Well, that dystopian nightmare, that we seemed to be plummeting toward with grim inevitability, now appears slightly less likely, as the EU have voted to ban all single-use plastics by 2021.
In a vote taken in the European Parliament on Wednesday, 560 MEPs voted for the ban, while 35 voted against and 28 abstained. The move will see all single-use plastic, such as food containers, cutlery, straws, cotton-bud sticks etc. banned from being distributed in EU member states.
Around 70% of all marine litter is comprised of these type of single-use plastics and it is hoped that this will curb further marine pollution, as well as comprise part of a greater psychological shift toward people embracing recycling.
MEP Frédérique Ries said of the move,
“This legislation will reduce the environmental damage bill by €22 billion - the estimated cost of plastic pollution in Europe until 2030."
"Europe now has a legislative model to defend and promote at international level, given the global nature of the issue of marine pollution involving plastics. This is essential for the planet.”
The full list of single-use items that will be banned by this legislation include:
- Single-use plastic cutlery (forks, knives, spoons and chopsticks)
- Single-use plastic plates
- Plastic straws
- Cotton bud sticks made of plastic
- Plastic balloon sticks
- Oxo-degradable plastics and food containers and expanded polystyrene cups