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Have you watched the video that a poor sea turtle get a straw up its nose? Recently, plastic straw alternatives have aroused discussions in Taiwan. The rise of environmental awareness and in responds to the restriction of using plastic according to government policy, eco-friendly alternatives were demanded by the market. Consumers don’t want to be the culprit of pollution but they still need to use straws. So, you will see straws of different materials swarmed into the market.

Designers are now needed to design alternatives for plastic straws but they have to be very careful. This is not just designing for a product to gain profit in the market but a solution to problems that will greatly influence the society. Government might be able to pass the law to ban the use of plastic straws if the design could be successful substitutions for plastic straws. However, the solution of one problem always causes another problem. For example, the disposable chopsticks were encouraged by the government as a preventive measure against hepatitis-B in Taiwan in the 80s. Made from bamboo, the disposable chopsticks supposed to be eco but turned out to be a short-lived product which is hard to recycle, and can’t decompose fast enough for the mass demand and consumption.

Compared to chopsticks, straws are trickier. Reusable materials have cleaning and sanitary problems while renewable materials have antiseptic treatment problems. Designers have to concern the consumption of resources and pollution released in the process of producing. The difficulties will not be appearance and mechanism but the production methods and materials. Whether the straws are durable or decomposable, all designers can do is reduce influence and cost. You can’t walk on the sand without leaving footprints, after all.

The sea turtle video is real and the pollution posing threats on animals and environment is real. But when you think carefully, you will realize that the problem is not that the straw is plastic but the straw was not recycled properly. Therefore, whether it’s a stainless straw, a glass straw or a diamond straw, as long as people kept dumping wastes into the sea, it will still end up in the body of sea life.

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