The recent straw bans and citizen activism have caused a debate to spark up on the use of plastic's, but specifically plastic straws. The reality is that plastic straws make up about 4% of the trash polluting the ocean, and even less by weight; accounting for 2000 of the 9 million tons of plastic that hits our ocean each year.
That being said, straws play a vital role in some peoples lives. Metal straws lack the mobility that's so important for the disabled; they also can become too hot or cold, which can be dangerous for those with sensory issues. Metal straws are hard to clean, and that is extremely difficult if you have motor skill or mobility issues. Biodegradable and other straw alternatives present choking hazards for small children and those with difficulty swallowing. For anyone that isn't disabled, elderly, or a child, plastic straws are basically a luxury.
I personally couldn't imagine my grandfather, who was in a nursing home for four years with Parkensons, Dementia, and Alzheimers, going through those three years without a plastic straw that had the ability to bend. Straws provided him with the ability to drink on his own, for the most part, without risking spilling his drink. So, no, plastic straws aren't killing the planet- but they do serve a purpose for those with specific needs.
A study, conducted in the Science journal, estimated 4.8 to 12.7 million metric tons of plastic that enters the ocean from 192 of our world's coastal countries, and just 0.9 percent of it comes from the United States. "A more recent study, from the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, found that 90 percent of plastic polluting the world's oceans comes from ten rivers, eight of which are in Asia; two are in Africa." 80 percent of the oceans pollution comes from countries with extreme poverty; developed countries aren't really the problem.
A better solution than banning plastics and depriving citizens of rights would probably be to invest in a system that collects trash from the ocean, and stops it from entering in the first place; and better centers and procedures to turn used plastic into new items. This means the developed world working with, encouraging, and helping developing countries to reduce their pollution and waste.
This help can come from two places, the government or private-sector. But no matter how the assistance is acquired, there needs to be a world-wide effort to reduce plastic and waste. Because at the rate that this is going, we're in for some dark times in the near future.