The  lines

11December

4 Million Problems With This Christmas Tree

The inhabitants of Lithuania’s second largest city Kaunas have a long traditiong of designing their city square Christmas trees in the most artsy and entertaining ways. For example, in 2011, the tree was created out of 32 000 discarded plastic bottles, thus giving a second life to plastic waste. This year, however, an artist surprised the public by creating a tree with 4 million brand new plastic straws!

Although the white straws make for a cunning impression of snow, they are still considered single-use plastics, the same ones along with plastic cutlery and plates that were just recently banned by the European Parliament (effective from 2021). Plastic waste has become a major mainstream issue due to its harmful effect on marine ecosystems. Namely, lightweight plastic waste such as straws are extremely prone to being diverted by rain, wind, streams and rivers into larger bodies of waters such as seas and oceans, where they slowly degrade into smaller and smaller pieces, eventually turning into microplastics. Such tiny bits of plastics are then consumed by wildlife, mainly fish, who cannot distinguish between food and plastic. Since plastic is not digestible, it accumulates in the stomachs of fish and birds, leaving less room for real food. Eventually the animals die from starvation.

The use of millions of unused straws as decoration material on a Christmas tree was not seen as an issue by the designer of the tree, who mentioned that all the plastic will be „recycled“ after the holidays. What she meant was that it will be burned as waste fuel to generate heat. This is not strictly speaking recycling, as the material itself does not return to the consumption cycle. Straws are made out of polypropylene and this is a recyclable type of plastic, but due to its light weight and small size it falls off and through the cracks of the waste sorting lines, sometimes causing jamming and equipment failure. Instead, the straws are collected and sent to landfill or burnt as waste fuel (in the best case). Another part of straws never reaches recycling facilities as they are lost in the waste management flow during collection, sorting, baling, lifting and transportation.

There are, however, modern sustainable alternatives to plastic straws, and they are made out of steel, glass, bamboo or even common reed, as two Estonian startups called Pillirookõrs ja Strawerry.  
have proven. Their straws are biodegradable, reusable and cost almost nothing in terms of CO2 to produce.
Whether such straws make for attractive Christmas tree decorations, depends on the imagination and creativity of future decorators!

Sources: 

https://tech2.org/lithuania/feisbuke-gets-angry-with-the-christmas-tree-in-kaunas-this-is-the-saddest-tree-in-lithuania/
https://www.15min.lt/naujiena/aktualu/kauno-zinios/2-5-mln-kauno-kaledu-egle-puosianciu-plastikiniu-siaudeliu-bus-perdirbti-798-1068522
https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-45965605
https://www.iol.co.za/lifestyle/food-drink/why-plastic-straws-are-not-recyclable-16975360
https://www.wired.com/story/how-plastic-straws-slip-through-the-cracks-of-waste-management/

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