What’s the Big Deal about Plastic Straws?

Last updated on December 11, 2022.

straws colorful, Photo by Bilderjet on Pixabay
Photo by Bilderjet on Pixabay

There is a coalition of aquariums across the United States that are striving to reduce the use of plastic straws. The coalition is called the Aquarium Conservation Partnership (ACP) and is a collaboration of 22 public aquariums in 17 states, including the Tennessee Aquarium. They are “committed to advancing conservation of the world’s ocean, lakes, and rivers through consumer engagement, business leadership and policy changes.”

Aquariums are awesome and full of wonder and thousands of children go through them daily. So they are poised to be leaders in positive change, and this is a great example of that! One of the things they’re doing is asking restaurants and others in the hospitality industry to reduce the use of straws by only giving them out upon request, instead of automatically. They’re also asking individuals to sign a pledge to stop using plastic straws.

My son in awe at the Tennessee Aquarium when he was just 2 and a half. Photo by me.
My son at the Tennessee Aquarium when he was just 2 and a half. Photo by me.

What’s wrong with plastic straws?

First, the sheer amount of them! Just like with all single-use disposable plastic products, it’s the over-consumption of them. Think 500 million plastic straws per day. That’s more than one straw per person per day in the United States. Our consumption has gone way overboard and has created a waste stream that is too large for us to keep up with! Second, they are not recyclable at all.

Don’t feel guilty about having used plastic straws. Just please refuse plastic straws – START TODAY. Politely refuse those plastic straws – if everyone refuses just one straw per day, we’ll more than cut our usage in half!

Colored plastic straws sorted by color. Image by Marjon Besteman-Horn from Pixabay
Image by Marjon Besteman-Horn from Pixabay

I threw my disposables into the trash/recycling receptacle like I’m supposed to, how are they ending up in the rivers and ocean?

One of the critical issues with all the media about single-use disposable plastics is that the biggest question is often not answered: How does the plastic end up in the ocean in the first place?

Most people assume that once they’ve placed their disposables into a receptacle, those disposables go to the proper facility. What people don’t know is that many items don’t make it to the recycling facility or landfill. Since that’s out of our control, it seems impossible to do anything about it. But it’s not impossible by any means. The best way to guarantee that your single-use disposable plastics don’t end up in the ocean is…

To just not use them! Refuse them. Find an alternative. Then you do have control. We have the power to be the change.

So back to the question – how are plastics ending up in the rivers and ocean?

There are so many causes! Spillage from recycling that has been transported across the ocean for years to Asia; plastic products shipped across the ocean to the U.S. have spilled from ships; the fishing industry regularly dumps their trash into the ocean; trash and litter get blown or washed into storm drains and rivers that then feed into the ocean; illegal dumping; beach trash; river pollution; microbeads washing down drains; and debris from natural disasters and floods. Plastic bags are picked up by the wind and blown into waterways that flow into the ocean.

Starbucks is one company that is striving to end use of plastic straws by 2020. Photo by Nadine Shaabana on Unsplash
Starbucks is one company that is striving to end the use of plastic straws by 2020. Photo by Nadine Shaabana on Unsplash.

Ok, so what steps can I take?

First, let’s support the Aquarium Conservation Partnership. You can do this by signing the pledge (linked under Additional Resources below).

Second, refuse. Just say no thank you. To all single-use disposable plastics. Because recycling is not the answer. Only about 9% of our plastics get recycled. That means 91% is not recycled!

Third, if you must have something commonly produced as a single-use disposable plastic, like a straw, please buy a reusable one. Paper disposables and supposedly biodegradable straws are a better option, but it’s still going to be thrown away after one use. Try a stainless steel straw, glass straw, or bamboo straw.

Fourth, tell others! Tell your friends, your co-workers, your favorite restaurant, the local coffee shop, and your local school. So many to tell!

Fifth, participate in trash clean-up efforts. Join the Litterati. Maybe you’ll keep some of the trash you pick up from entering the ocean.

Single use disposable plastic straw found buried in the sand, Hilton Head Island, October 2018. Photo by me.
Single-use disposable plastic straw found buried in the sand, Hilton Head Island, October 2018. Photo by me.

Last, stop supporting businesses that just won’t get on board. If consumers are asking businesses they patronize to stop using certain items, such as single-use disposable plastics, the consumer also has the power to not patronize that business. If consumers refuse to spend money at a business because that business does not do or provide what consumers want, then that business will be forced to change if they want to maintain profitability.

Final Thoughts

Collectively, have the power to create change just by modeling the best behavior. Refuse that straw. Be polite, of course. But just say no. You might influence someone else to refuse straws too. If everyone starts refusing straws, businesses won’t have the need to order as many. Then the plastic straw manufacturers will have to produce less. And then less will end up in landfills, in nature, and in the oceans. Carry a reusable stainless steel straw with you. Be the change! And as always, thanks for reading.

Forest Gump meme on straws, I couldn't stop giggling at this, so I'm reposting it here.

Additional Resource:

First Step, Skipping the Plastic Straw Pledge.

Footnote:

  1. Page, “Aquarium Conservation Partnership Shedd Aquarium, accessed December 11, 2022

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