Christmas morning was fairly typical. A few presents, a lot of baked goods, and a ton of downtime. It was then that I promptly took out my phone to play the addictive game that I save for moments just like this.
After losing on the first go-around, I was prompted to watch a video before I could earn my rightful chance to fail once more. It was there that I saw an advertisement that actually struck me. What came up wasn’t for some medieval battle game or a candy popping tap fest. This one was different.
Instead, what came up was an oceangeneration.org ad for the #thelaststraw collective. A bit unexpected, I admit.
The ad itself was fairly simple. But the bold black words against a stark white background that read “NO STRAW PLEASE” rightfully managed to catch my attention…enough to explore a little further.
What I found next was more surprising.
In February of 2011, a 9-year-old boy called attention to the way that the world looked at straws when he ordered a soda at a Burlington, Vermont restaurant. When his drink arrived, Milo Cress had a realization. His straw was actually doing more harm than good. It was actually pollution.
Bothered by this thought, Milo later approached local restaurants in Burlington, asking that they only give straws to patrons that had actually requested one. Little did he realize that this effort would turn into something much larger…let alone a movement.
In fact, this would be the start of his “Be Straw Free,” campaign – one designed to reduce the needless pollution of straw waste.
Six years have passed since Cress begged the question for change. In that time he has not only continued his work but is now part of a global movement to eliminate the use of plastic straws.
Many conservation groups have joined the effort to eradicate straws:
- Strawless Ocean
- Save our Shores
- Plastic Pollution Coalition
- 5 Gyres
- Ocean Conservancy
- My Plastic Free Life
- Ocean Generation (#thelaststraw)
…just to name a few.
Not only that, entire cities and counties are also doing their part to be straw free.
A great example can be found in Seattle, Washington. When Lonely Whale took over Seattle many of its businesses and cultural icons committed to being Strawless in Seattle. The Strawless in Seattle campaign is the first of its kind. In September of 2017, Seattle’s trailblazing effort and support of Strawless Ocean kept 2.3 million straws out of the ocean when more than 150 restaurants, businesses, and venues swapped their plastic straws for sustainable alternatives. The city isn’t stopping there.
When the Strawless In Seattle campaign launched, Seattle announced that it would become the largest metropolitan city to fully ban the single-use plastic straw. More information about Seattle’s food service packaging requirements can be found here.
Seattle may be the first major city to go straw free but Cornwall, England is making a serious effort to become the first county.
The Final Straw Cornwall campaign was the brainchild birthed after a conversation between a concerned surfer, James Neale and a 69-year-old businesswoman, Pat Smith of Bosinver Farm Cottages. The conversation progressed into a proposal that sought to ban all straw usage to address Britain’s growing ocean pollution problems.
The proposed ban quickly drew celebrity attention and gained its ambassador – sustainability expert, TV chef and Posh Pasties owner, James Strawbridge. According to Strawbridge, “The Final Straw is aiming for just that. No more plastic straws being used in Cornwall. They spoil our beaches and kill our wildlife. Every straw on the planet right now will outlive everyone reading these words. Cornwall is where that stops.”
There are also major tourist attractions that are committing to eliminating the use of straws.
The various Smithsonian Institution museums attracted roughly 26 million attendees in 2017. When you figure their ban of the single-use plastic straw from their concession areas into that, you save a lot of needless plastic from potentially making its way to the water.
Another great example is the Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom. The Animal Kingdom is the largest single Disney theme park in the world. Because its 500 acres are home to roughly 1,500 specimens of mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians, it makes sense that the Animal Kingdom should make conservation efforts.
When it comes to plastic straws they have not only eliminated them completely, they have also done away with all plastic lids. If straws are a must, guests will find that the only options offered are made from paper.
Why go after straws?
Of the roughly 300 million tons of plastic produced every year, 50% is created for single use and 8 million tons end up in our oceans.
When reading these statistics, most people think of plastic bags washing up on our beaches or soda can rings dangling from the neck of a helpless seagull. While these do happen, most people don’t realize that single-use plastic straws are one of the most common items found in ocean pollution – as it ranks in the Top Ten Marine Debris Items list.
And it makes sense when you look at the sheer volume of straw production.
500 million single-use straws are produced in the United States every day. Metaphorically speaking, that’s enough to wrap around the earth 2.5 times… every day! Those straws are then carried by most establishments that serve any kind of loose beverage – restaurants, coffee shops, gas stations, theme parks, school cafeterias, and movie theatres just to name a few.
Of those straws given to consumers, roughly ZERO are not thrown away.
That means that all of those straws are finding their way out into the world of waste. And while some end up in landfills, a large number are finding their way into the ocean – whether it be via beach litter from coastal communities and seaside resorts, offshore garbage dumping or, from our storm drains, sewers, and eventually rivers (all gutters and storm drains lead to our oceans eventually).
In fact, A scary oceangeneration.org fact states that approximately 6,236,319 straws have been collected from beach cleanups over the last 25 years.
What straws actually do in the ocean
In 2015, an infamous video of marine biologists in Guanacaste, Costa Rica removing a plastic straw from the nose of a sea turtle was posted on YouTube. It went viral.
The video is gut-wrenching. But perhaps worst of all, is the humbling fact that it shows just one of the ways that the single-use straw is endangering the lives of a variety of ocean and sea dwellers.
According to the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences and Conservation Biology, it is estimated that roughly 71% of seabirds and 30% of turtles have been found with plastics (including straws) in their stomachs. Yes, in their stomachs!
It is also understood that when marine life ingests this plastic their chance of a full life drops by 50%.
Skip the straw
If you look to Milo and his conservancy counterparts, the answer to committing to the elimination of straws in your everyday life can be boiled down to 3 easy steps:
1. Just say “No Straw Please” and “Be Straw Free.”
This step is so easy, anyone can do it. Anytime you’re eating/drinking outside of your home, say ‘no’ to straws. By taking this first step you can prevent the disposal of thousands of straws in your lifetime.
According to ecocycle.org, 500 million straws per day averages out to roughly 1 to 2 straws per person per day in the US. That equates to approximately 38,000 straws used per person between their ages of 5 and 65.
If you want to make a larger statement, you can also commit to being straw free here.
2. Think Strawless Ocean
If you just can’t get away from straw usage, there is still a way to help combat plastic pollutants! There are a variety of non-plastic straw options available – from reusable stainless steel straw options and biodegradable paper straws to bamboo straws and hyper compostable/edible options (Lolistraw by Loliware).
3. Spread the word
Talk to local owners and managers of the establishments that use single-use straws. Milo did it at 9 and made a change so imagine what we all could accomplish by talking about this single issue together! Tips for spreading the word can be found here.
Looking for more? Check out our blog Ocean Pollution: 14 Facts That Will Blow Your Mind
- Cornwall Live
- Just Means
- Kick Starter
- LAD Bible
- Lonely Whale
- One Green Planet
- National Geographic
- Ocean Conservancy
- Conserve Energy Future
- News Deeply
- Plastic Oceans
- Strawless Ocean
- Seattle Government
- Teach Starter
- Theme Park Tourist
- Tree Hugger
- Washington Post
- Camino Travel (factoid images)