Stop telling me to stop sucking, why the plastic straw refusing hype sucks

When Sir David Attenborough said plastic was the biggest threat to the world's oceans in Blue Planet Two, he didn't mean just plastic straws.

2018 so far, has been the year of the straw, or more accurately, the year of no-straw. The Queen banned plastic straws from the royal estates, Starbucks announced it will ditch them globally by 2020, and Marriot followed suit, pledging to stop using plastic straws and stirrers in its properties by July 2019.

The Hype got bigger and bigger with organisations like the Lonely Whale launching campaigns to discourage people from using plastic straws. Everybody jumped on the #stopsucking bandwagon, from Hollywood celebrities like Adrian Greenier, to famous athletes like Tom Brady, and even actual scientists like Neil Degrasse Tyson. Someone even made a documentary about them.

The message of the whole thing is simple: stop using plastic straws because they, in Tom Brady’s words, “are posing a huge threat to our planet.”

But are they really Tom?

All of these no-straw campaigners love to mention that the people in the US alone consume 500 million straws a day. That sounds incredibly bad, isn’t it? Well, it is indeed in-credible, because this number comes from a 10 year-olds school project. According to Reuters, the real number is around 170 million.

Another "straw-fact" that keeps getting thrown around is that currently, there are 8.3 billion plastic straws scattered on global coastlines. This number is based on research conducted by two Australian scientists. However, what usually doesn't get mentioned is that even if all those straws suddenly ended up in the sea, they would only account for about 0.3 percent of plastics estimated to enter the oceans in a year.

Within the larger context of plastic pollution and climate change, the role plastic straws play is rather minuscule. This is not to say that we should use five straws per drink or fill-up our bathtubs with them; if you don't need a straw, because some people actually do, obviously it's better if you don't use one. But because of all of this noise around plastic straws, we are losing sight of real dangers like ocean acidification and other (larger) plastic pollution.

Although some argue that refusing plastic straws might be "a gateway" to do more for the environment, the risk is too big to leave things to wishful thinking. Sure, it might lead to more impactful actions, but it also might lead to the exact opposite. 

When it comes to acting responsibly about climate change, people tend to use self-licensing, using a good deed to negate a bad one, to justify their otherwise questionable actions. One research found that when people recycle, they feel entitled to use more resources and care less about how their non-recycling related actions affect the planet.

There is no concrete evidence that the hype around refusing plastic straws leads to similar self-licensing results, but we can't afford the chance that it does. In the video he posted on Instagram, Tom Brady says that refusing plastic straws is his commitment to tackling plastic pollution. Well, that commitment is not even close to being enough. If we stop at plastic straws we won't get anywhere. We need to think, talk and act more about climate change, not less.

Refusing plastic straws looks like a rather an easy solution for an individual compared to seemingly impenetrable issues like climate change. But let's not fool ourselves, it's almost not a solution at all; the contribution we're making to solving plastic pollution by refusing straws is zero to none. Bloomberg predicts that, by mass, straws only account for 0.03 percent of plastic waste.

In Doing Good Better William MacAskill argues that "on very generous estimates, if you stopped using plastic bags entirely you'd cut [...] only 0.4% of your total emissions." Imagine how little the effect of cutting plastic straws would be.

Hell, forget a positive impact, by refusing plastic straws and switching to alternatives like paper you might even be causing more harm. Turns out paper straws require more energy and effort to produce and are 8 times more expensive. They're also not as sturdy as their plastic counterparts and tend to break mid-drink, possibly causing people to use more than one in one go.

But you know what are high impact actions when it comes to reducing personal carbon emissions? Cycling to work if you can, eating less (ideally no) animal products, going on a local holiday instead of a transatlantic one; or if you want to do the absolute best thing for the environment: not having children.

If we want to have a real impact on climate change, bigger lifestyle changes are the way to go. And in the meantime, if you also want to refuse plastic straws, be my guest.

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    Join us for the second of our Kinder Conversations - the Sky has a Limit.

    Following our investigation into the Future of Meat in February, we've turned our attention to the sky. We'll be talking about whether air travel can be more sustainable, and how.

    We're delighted to be hosting this event in collaboration with our friends at TQ, the Amsterdam tech hub where we're based. 

    📅 When Monday 17 June 18:30 - 20:30
    📭 Where TQ, Singel 542, Amsterdam
    🎯 Why should I fly Kinder? To hear about the latest research and technology making air travel more sustainable. To find out what you can do to reduce the impact your flights are having. To share a drink with like-minded travelers, and sample some of our vegan snacks (including beloved Professor Grunschnabel ice cream, as seen at the Future of Meat event)

    🎫 How can I get in? We’re offering two ticket levels: Economy (free) and Business Class (for the price of a donation to Cool Earth). Secure your seat now!

    More about The Sky has a Limit

    Here at Kinder, we believe that greener travel is one of the key ways in which we can tackle the climate crisis. Travelling green can mean a lot of things, but right now we’re concerned about the aviation industry.  

    If aviation were a country, it’d be a top 10 polluter - and C02 emissions from air travel are growing many times faster than any other form. We’re already in a very dangerous position, and although there are many potential solutions, we sometimes feel overwhelmed and uncertain about what to do about it.

    That’s where Kinder Conversations comes in.

    Kinder Conversations is a series of events which delve into the biggest issues facing the world. 

    At the Sky has a Limit, we’ll be bringing together representatives from research and technology, the aviation industry and the not-for-profit sector to talk about sustainable air travel. We’ll hear more about the problem, and a lot more about the solutions.

    Plus, there’ll be time to get a drink from TQ’s bar (buying a drink helps our friends from TQ support more events like this), try some vegan ice cream, and chat to fellow travellers about the steps you can take to travel greener.

    ✈️ Are you ready to #flykinder? Then secure your boarding pass here

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  • How flying cars could help solve the problem of air pollution


    I don't have a driving license and when pressed about getting one by friends tired of chauffeuring me around I usually say I will only get one if I can drive something cool, like the Batmobile or a flying car. Unfortunately, I might have to honour that promise as it seems that flying cars are finally taking off (alas, no commercial Batmobiles in sight).

    Indeed, several promising startups around the world are working to deliver the "car of the future"  over the next few years. Like the Dutch company PAL-V that showed off a limited edition of its flying car at the Geneva Auto Show in Switzerland.

    The PAL-V is a hybrid between a car and a helicopter (or more precisely, a gyrocopter), able to reach a top speed of 160 km/h on the tarmac but also get airborne in just 5 minutes, hitting airspeeds of 180 km/h over a range of up to 500 km. But since buying a PAL-V will set you back around € 350,000 I might have to pass on this one. Moreover, flying this beauty requires not just a driving license but also (understandably) a license to fly, and that's just too much for me.


    Thankfully, other companies are developing vehicles that need no driver at all. Aerospace manufacturer Bell Helicopter, for example, is working on Nexus, an air taxi capable of taking off and landing in the middle of a city (whereas the PAL-V still needs a runway, albeit short, to get airborne).

    Called VTOLs (short for Vertical Take Off and Landing), these aircraft aim to become sort of an Uber of urban air travel, bringing customers to the opposite part of the city or even to a nearby city in a matter of few minutes.

    If you're at JFK airport in New York, for example, and have a meeting in Manhattan, instead of embarking on a 1-hour, Cosmopolis-style taxi ride, you could just hail a flying car and be downtown in 5 minutes.  

    Futuristic as it may sound, concrete plans to make it come true are underway. Earlier this month, German startup Lilium successfully completed the first test of its new five-seater Lilium Jet, an electric vehicle that, according to the company, will have a range of 300 km and a top speed of 300 km/h. 

    The reason electric flight is such an exciting area of research is not just because flying taxis will allow a handful of high rollers to drastically cut on their commuting time. Electric flying cars might be really good for the environment too.

    A recent study published by Nature highlighted that, in some cases, flying cars could eventually be greener than even electric road cars, cutting emissions while reducing traffic on increasingly busy roads.

    Moreover, developments in the field of flying cars could also boost the research on electric flight at large, including long haul electric flights, sort of the Holy Grail of aviation. And, as known, the civil aviation industry needs to find effective ways to lower its carbon emissions as soon as possible. 

    However, as explained by Hugh Hunt in an article on The Conversation that we republished here on Kinder World, "gaps in necessary technology and practical uncertainties beyond the cars’ promising physics mean that they may not arrive in time to be a large-scale solution to the energy crisis and congestion." 

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  • Why the current state of aviation is one of the main threats to our planet


    Let's get this one thing straight: most people prefer flying to other modes of transport, and we seem to do it more and more often. The airline industry is booming and 4.1 billion passengers have been transported last year. Almost every figure one looks at shows the impressive increase in flights over the last two decades.

    Alexandre de Juniac, head of the International Association for Flight Transport proclaims: “In 2000, the average citizen flew just once every 43 months. In 2017, the figure was once every 22 months. Flying has never been more accessible. And this is liberating people to explore more of our planet for work, leisure, and education. Aviation is the business of freedom."  

    However, this ‘business of freedom’ runs on fossil energy carriers as planes still almost exclusively fly on kerosene. Kerosene is a fuel produced by oil refining and carbon dioxide (CO2) is the major product of burning kerosene. The 2-5% of all global CO2 emissions the aviation industry emits is caused by its fuel consumption (and choice). And unlike other fuels like diesel or gasoline, airlines don't pay taxes on kerosene in most countries — making cheap air travel possible.

    In 2018 Europe’s biggest airline Ryanair became number 9 in the list of Europe’s biggest CO2 emitters and still claims to be the ‘greenest and cleanest airline’. Andrew Murphy – the aviation manager at the European Federation for Transport and Environment — argues that Ryanair the new coal when it comes to climate pollution. Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary, on the other hand, dismisses such claims by saying the claims are ‘’complete and utter rubbish’’.

    Other airlines, like KLM who partly uses renewable jet-fuel, are acknowledging the problem but they aren't too far behind Ryanair on the list of emitters. 

    The growth of the industry is not expected to slow down. India and China are the biggest growth markets, the latter alone is building 200 new commercial airports in the next ten years. Moreover, industry forecasts suggest that emissions will rise by 700% until 2050 which amounts to more than 4% of the world’s remaining carbon budget.

    If we want to reach the goals of the Paris Agreement, every the average earthling has a quota of two tons of CO2 per annum but just a return trip between New York and Amsterdam generates three tons already.

    Compared to other modes of transport planes are the biggest CO2 emitters per travelled kilometre followed by cars, buses and finally trains which are the least polluting. The CO2 emissions, however, are only one half of the medal. The impact of flying on global warming is different than most other transport as it happens in the air high above the ground where the processes that cause or reduce global warming happen. These include CO2 and nitrogen oxide emission but also cloud formation, ozone and soot as well as methane reduction.

    The climate impact of the emitted greenhouse gases in the stratosphere are three times higher than on the ground. Flying also causes condensation trails and fog clouds in certain weather conditions. Such clouds can have a warming or a cooling effect on the climate. One way to improve the climate effect of flying would be planning better routes where warming clouds are avoided and the formation of cooling clouds is favoured — our current routes have an overall warming effect.

    So, hypothetically, some flights with clever flight-route planning might even reduce global warming. However, as we don't have time to hypothesise, we need to find and urgently implement other ways to bring down the impact of flying, like using better fuels or even better planes.

    This article was written by Eric Schuler for Kinder World. Schuler is a PhD candidate at the University of Amsterdam and works on new industrial sustainable chemistries to turn captured CO2 into useful things such as plastics or fuel. He's also a photojournalist with an interest in climate and land-use change.

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