How many straws have you used this week? How about in your family? Whether your cold smoothie came with one, your kids carton of juice or your gin & tonic, straw can be ubiquitous with drinking. But this tiny piece of plastic, that we tend to overlook, is polluting the planet.
500 million straws are used and discarded every single day in the United States alone.
That’s an eye watering 175 billion a year filtering into landfills and ending up as litter in our waterways and oceans. In 2015, a video went viral, horrifying thousands of people as it depicted a sea turtle with a 10-12 cm straw stuck up its nose. Clearly in pain, the research team that found the sea turtle thankfully worked to free the straw. This video clearly demonstrated how detrimental plastic trash is to marine life, and specifically how plastic straws—an unnecessary plastic item we use for convenience—can cause so much havoc.
The Last Plastic Straw
In 2011, Jackie Nunez founded the The Last Plastic Straw after she realized how superfluous disposable plastic straws had become. Her inspiration came when at a beach bar she ordered a glass of water only to have it served with a plastic straw in it. The Last Plastic Straw is a movement that is part of the project Plastic Pollution Coalition, a group designed encourage people to stop using single-use plastic.
As Nunez continued to travel the Caribbean she was surprised by the sheer volume of plastic pollution. Plastic was on the beaches, polluting the water and the sand. There was simply no avoiding it. And if you’re someone that has traveled in the last 10 years, this is likely a scene that you’ve witnessed firsthand, whether you realized the true danger in it at the time or not. And unfortunately it is only getting worse.
To stop plastic pollution it has to stop at the source; ditching single-use plastic. Why not start with looking into your habitual plastic straw habit?
What’s the danger behind plastic?
Plastic never goes away. Plastic is made to be durable and is a material that is made to last, yet we regard plastic utensils as disposable; we use them once and then trash them. Plastic is not biodegradable, it simply won’t vanish over time. It will, however, break down into smaller pieces, which are them ingested by marine and land animals not only causing them harm but also ending up in our own food chain.
Recycling doesn’t always help. We tend to think that so long as we’re recycling we’re doing our part for the environment. Only a small fraction of our recycling goes on to be recycled again. And that’s just the plastic that is being recycled. It’s estimated that America alone discards 30 million tons of plastic a year, only 8 percent of which gets recycled. So if it’s not being recycled, where does it go? It ends up in a landfill or working its way back into our environment. Essentially every single piece of plastic that has ever been made is still somehow in our environment; due to its chemical make-up there is nothing strong enough in nature to cause plastic to biodegrade. How scary is that thought?
Essentially every single piece of plastic that has ever been made is still somehow in our environment.
Plastic affects human health. Even if plastic is incinerated we are still affected by it as we breathe in the toxic dioxins that are released into the air from the incineration process. In addition, additives are found in plastic, including flame retardants, BPAs and PVCs, each of which can leach their own toxic chemicals. These toxic chemicals then find their way onto other plastics as they stick to them. The chemicals are also water-repellent, and can leak oily poisons into the water system, which is a serious concern when it comes to the world’s oceans and marine life.
Plastic also finds it way onto our plates as it settles onto crops and becomes bioaccumulated inside of animals (which we then eat) and humans. In fact, scientists have found the chemicals from plastics in mother’s breast milk. How much harm could this have? Exposure to these chemicals has been linked to cancer, birth defects, a fractured immune system and many other ailments.
What can you do to help?
Basically, to do more you need to do less. Less consumption. Less waster. Less plastic. Join Nunez and The Last Plastic Straw to say ‘no straw’ in places where straws are being served, and refuse them when offered at restaurants and bars. You alone can have a huge impact on preventing single-use plastic pollution from killing our planet, and this can all happen by refusing one straw at a time.
Alternatives to using plastic:
When it comes to saying no to straws there will still be times when you’re in need of a way to enjoy your beverages (without spilling them). Luckily, there’s a whole range of options for us to choose from. Several of them are reusable so you’ll be able to use them time and time again without having an impact on the world’s plastic pollution. Others are biodegradable, ensuring your drink isn’t effecting the world around you.
Sustainable Straws: 5 Options …
Stainless Steel Straws
Stainless steel straws are worth the investment. They’re not only eco-friendly but also BPA-free so they’re non-toxic and safe. They have absolutely zero metallic aftertaste, and are the perfect way to enjoy a smoothie. They even come with a small pipe cleaner so that you can clean your straws out quick and effectively.
Get yours here.
You may want to take heed when it comes to glass straws; they can break. It took me a while to learn this and when I dropped my glass straw for the first time and it shattered before my eyes, it took me a second to think well duh, it’s glass – of course it’s going to break! But by this time I’d become rather attached to using glass straws, so I looked to find more suitable types for my clumsiness. That’s where these Dharma Glass Straws come in super handy! They’re made of thick, quality glass but they also have bright dots that prevent them from rolling off of surfaces and breaking.
Get yours here.
Why not replace your straws with these natural bamboo ones? There’s no ink or dye and no waste with these. They’re durable to use and shaped from nature itself. You can safely use these again and again; the set comes with a handy cleaning brush to get deep inside to give them a thorough clean. They’re also biodegradable, so eventually they’ll go straight back to nature.
Get yours here.
Thick Paper Straws
I know sometimes it can be pricey to find alternatives to plastic. And if you’re hosting a party and looking to keep it eco-friendly in terms of plastic and waste then you’ll be wanting to find a practical option. That’s when these thick paper straws are perfect to keep on hand. They’re around $8-9 for 50 straws and are rigid enough not to break down once placed in your drink. Plus, once you’re done and the party is over, these straws are biodegradable and compostable and made using only FDA approved materials, so they’ll feed back into the environment.
Get yours here.
Stainless Steel Insulated Tumbler Cup
In addition to using less plastic, we also need to use fewer disposable drink containers. Around 7 million coffee cups are disposed of daily from the copious amounts of coffee chains. So now, when preparing to stop at your favorite cafe for your morning latte, make the conscious effort to say no to a disposable cup. Instead, take a tumbler along like this one from Healthy Human. The insulation will keep your drink hot or cold two times longer than any regular cup. It’s sweat-resistant so you’ll have no liquid dripping all over you. Plus they’re BPA-free and they come with a reusable steel straw. The only hard part is choosing which color you’ll want . . .
Get yours here.
So, next time you’re out and about and you pop in somewhere for a drink and they offer you a straw, remember……….#REFUSETHESTRAW.
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