‘Say No to Straws!’: Sustainability Story of the Week
I have a simple challenge for you. Next time you’re out for a meal at a restaurant, or for drinks with friends, and you order your beverage of choice – ask your waiter/waitress for ‘no straw, please!’
No straw? But it’s such a small, insignificant thing – why shouldn’t I have one? Well, if you’re interested in eco-living, and care about the environment, then you should stop using straws. And here’s why.
What’s so bad about straws?
They might be small, but straws are certainly not insignificant in terms of their environmental impact.
Straws have become so ingrained in our lives and culture that most drinks are served with them as standard. You probably don’t even notice – I certainly didn’t, until a colleague requested not to have a straw with his drink whilst we were at a work meeting.
In the U.S.A. alone, it’s thought that around 500 million plastic straws are used every day, most of which are not recycled. If all of these straws were joined together, they would stretch around the circumference of the planet two and a half times!
That’s a lot of straws.
As a product, straws are pretty much as un-environmentally friendly as you can get. The straw itself is a single-use product; straws can’t be washed and re-used as they are prone to melting and leaking toxic chemicals everywhere (makes you think twice about putting them in your mouths, right…)
On top of this, petroleum plastics don’t naturally biodegrade, and are designed to last FOREVER.
So, if they’re made to last forever, and they’re not recycled, where do these millions of straws all end up?
Since these type of plastics are designed to last forever, nearly every single piece of plastic that has ever been made still exists. Of course, single-use plastics have to end up somewhere, and the end-point in their journey is typically the ocean.
Plastic accounts for an astonishing 90% of all the waste in our seas. The Ocean Conservancy consistently rank straws in the Top 10 most-collected items at beach clean-ups, with over 6 million straws and stirrers removed from beaches at annual clean-up events over the last 25 years.
What does that mean for aquatic wildlife, and for marine environments?
It means that oceanic environments and aquatic animals really do get the short straw.
With all of these straws floating about in the ocean, there are some truly devastating environmental consequences. Straws can injure and kill wildlife, including some already endangered species.
Small straws can be easily ingested by seabirds, causing choking as the animals’ airways become blocked.This viral image shows the tragic result of human irresponsibility when it comes to disposing of plastic waste items. It is thought that over 1 million seabirds a year are killed through plastic consumption.
And it’s not just birds that are at risk. Worldwide, around 100,000 marine mammals unintentionally ingest plastic products every year. Turtles, for instance, are today thought to be consuming twice as much plastic as they did 25 years ago. As with seabirds, the consequences are disastrous: straws can puncture a turtle’s intestinal walls, resulting in starvation, or can leak harmful toxins into its system, causing reproductive issues. Since most sea turtles are already considered endangered, this is clearly terrible news.
This upsetting video shows a plastic straw being removed from a turtle’s nostril:
That’s the final straw. What can we do?
There is a really simple way that you can make a difference. Say ‘No!’ to straws. It’s a tiny behavioural change that, if adopted on mass, could make a huge difference.
Of course, for single-use plastics like straws to disappear completely, consumers and corporations need to make conscious decisions, and change their behaviour. It can be easy for ordinary people to blame large corporations for irresponsible environmental practices, and to pull the ‘what can I do about it, I’m just one person!’ card. Corporations would argue, though, that they’re simply meeting demand. Something’s got to give, and someone has to be willing to change. Some corporations are already beginning to make the shift, with the Straw Wars campaign encouraging restaurants and bars to pledge their support to the idea of eradicating plastic straws.
Use your power as a consumer. If everybody stops using straws, demand will plummet, and suppliers will be forced to react to this.
Next time you’re out, just ask for ‘no straw, please!’ Simple as that.
And, if you’re interested in getting more involved with conservation work out in the field, join a marine debris clean-up programme in Australia , or help to protect turtles on one of our turtle projects: