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What use are paper straws in a climate crisis?

paper straws

A few weeks ago, the band Coldplay announced they won’t be touring in the next year or two in an effort to be more carbon neutral, giving up the hundreds of millions they make on tour.

Front man Chris Martin said, “We've done a lot of big tours at this point. How do we turn it around so it's not so much taking as giving?"

They’re just one of many businesses and individuals who fly regularly and create a massive carbon footprint. You can be forgiven for wondering how the actions of one band or one business or one person can make a difference in a problem of global scale. Easy to feel overwhelmed. Tempting to go into denial mode.

Here in small town Manitoba, there are signs that individuals, schools and businesses are taking the approach of “Well, somebody has to go first.”

Paper straws have replaced plastic at some of Virden’s restaurants. At Chicken Chef, they ask if patrons want a straw before bringing it to the table.

Next year, Valleyview Co-op begins charging customers five cents for every plastic bag.

And last month, Virden Drugs went back in time and replaced their plastic grocery bags with recyclable, compostable paper.

Co-owner Jim Whyte said, “We are strong believers in climate change and doing what we can to help the environment and this seemed a good thing to do with minor downside.” The minor downside is that paper bags cost more than plastic.  

Because of that, Whyte predicts his store’s decision won’t launch a local trend, at least until the price of paper bags goes down. Which makes Virden Drugs’ shift to paper all the more remarkable considering most businesses are driven first and foremost by the bottom line.

So given the sacrifices required by doing the right thing for the environment, can any of us hope the examples above will make a difference? Or is it just too little too late?

It’s only too little if these trailblazers fail to inspire the rest of us to act. As Chris Martin said, “Everyone will catch up if you prove that it’s easy to do it the right way.”