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Today I want to talk about the infamous plastic straw! Plastic, single-use straws have gotten a lot of bad PR lately. They are wasteful and unnecessary in most cases, and there have been some horrifying videos of the dangers of plastic pollution for ocean wildlife. 

Those videos were unpleasant to watch, and the outrage and disgust they generated was powerful. Powerful enough to make Starbucks, who certainly distributes A LOT of plastic straws worldwide, announce a move to biodegradable straws. They have also redesigned their lids recently to minimize the need for straws. Other companies and businesses have pledged to stop handing out straws unless someone specifically asks for one, or ditching them altogether.

But it’s not just plastic straws that are the problem. It’s all the the single-use plastic.

How big is the plastic problem?

Since the general public began using plastic in the 1950’s, 60% of that global plastic production has been thrown away and is now in landfills or out in the environment (as of 2015) (1). In comparison, about 9% has been incinerated and about 7% has been recycled. The remaining amount is still in current use. And as you might imagine, the global production of plastic is not slowing down…what will we do with all that plastic waste?! It’s not pleasant to think about.

A staggering amount of our plastic waste has made its way into our oceans, and it collects in the open ocean following the ocean currents. Most of the plastic floating around is very small, having been broken down into smaller and smaller pieces over time due to weathering (which makes plastic more brittle) and breakdown by waves (2). This not only makes it very difficult to clean up (besides the fact that it’s in the middle of the open ocean…) but it makes it easily eaten by animals. These small pieces of plastic (microplastics) are inadvertently consumed by sea birds, sea turtles, and fish (3-5). The bigger pieces of plastic (like plastic bags, straws, etc) can also harm animals by entanglement.

What can you do?

Slowly decreasing your own plastic consumption is the most powerful way to help the plastic problem. Less demand for plastic = less plastic produced. 

Paper and metal straws have been booming in popularity as a result of the backlash against plastic straws. I decided to buy a set of two stainless steel straws + a cleaning brush from Don’t Waste Durham. They are perfect! They also have silicone straws and those are a great option too! 

Straws may seem like a small thing, but it’s not. We throw away SO MANY straws and it all adds up. All that trash has to go somewhere. Making a conscious decision to skip the straw or use a reusable straw makes a difference to the environment, and may lead to more impactful decisions down the road. Think of ditching plastic straws as one more action toward eco-friendly living and an eco-friendly lifestyle. 

Do you have reusable straws? What kind do you have? Comment below! 👇

What more eco-friendly tips? Check out my posts on coral-safe sunscreen, biodegradable sponges, and reusable water bottles.

References:
  1. Geyer R, Jambeck JR, Law KL. Production, uses, and fate of all plastics ever made. Sci Adv. 2017;3(7):5.
  2. Cózar A, Echevarría F, González-gordillo JI, Irigoien X, Úbeda B, Hernández-león S, et al. Plastic debris in the open ocean Plastic debris in the open ocean. Proc Natl Acad Sci. 2017;111(2810239–10244).
  3. Boerger CM, Lattin GL, Moore SL, Moore CJ. Plastic ingestion by planktivorous fishes in the North Pacific Central Gyre. Mar Pollut Bull [Internet]. 2010;60(12):2275–8. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.marpolbul.2010.08.007
  4. Clukey KE, Lepczyk CA, Balazs GH, Work TM, Lynch JM. Investigation of plastic debris ingestion by four species of sea turtles collected as bycatch in pelagic Pacific longline fisheries. Mar Pollut Bull [Internet]. 2017;120(1–2):117–25. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.marpolbul.2017.04.064
  5. Provencher JF, Bond AL, Hedd A, Montevecchi WA, Muzaffar S Bin, Courchesne SJ, et al. Prevalence of marine debris in marine birds from the North Atlantic. Mar Pollut Bull [Internet]. 2014;84(1–2):411–7. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.marpolbul.2014.04.044