The problem at hand is one of sheer volume [read: habitual]. Americans alone use an estimated 500 million straws every day. To put this into perspective, from end to end, straws used daily in the United States could circle the planet more than two-and-a-half times a day. No wonder straws continuously make the top ten items collected during beach clean-ups. Below is an infographic from The Ocean Conservancy from 2016:
Breaking Down the Straw:
Your typical restaurant straw is made from the petroleum bi-product, polypropylene. This bi-product does not easily degrade naturally in the environment, and ends up floating across the oceans until it is consumed by some aquatic organism. When plastic straws do begin to degrade, they release harmful toxins that can pollute aquatic ecosystems and ultimately destroy the environment. It is important to note, single-use straws never fully biodegrade, and takes hundreds of years to break down [no thank you].
Explaining the Habit:
Our straw use has become second nature. Most do not think twice about the harmful impact our daily straw use has on our environment, specifically our oceans, but rather the convenience of slurping down your beverage of choice.
Researchers Charles Spence and Xaioang Wan, state that drinking, unlike eating, always involves direct contact with the container or straw in which a drink happens to be consuming. In our everyday lives, we typically consume beverages from glasses, cups, mugs, cans, and bottles via straws. This study shows the relation of the impact that the physical and sensory properties of a drink’s container can have on people’s perception of the contents. In essence, when someone drinks out of a straw, research has shown the consumer believes the product tastes better than drinking without a straw.
Kicking the Habit:
The easiest way to eliminate the quantity of straws in the oceans is to simply stop using single-use plastics. Become aware of the way in which you are contributing to this harmful habit. Stop using plastic straws, even in restaurants. It is OKAY to request no straws. If a straw is a must, purchase a reusable stainless steel or glass straw. Like this one, this one, or this one. Cafes and restaurants are becoming increasingly conscious of environmental issues, so creating a dialogue with your local barista or bartender around the problem of single-use plastic straws is a great first step towards initiating change.
Check out our Ocean Friendly Restaurant Program to see which restaurants in our local community are already jumping on board to a more sustainable future!
If you would like to become more involved with keeping our oceans and beaches clean, join us on Saturday, January 27, 2018 from 9am-11am for our monthly beach clean up located at Surfer’s Point in Ventura, CA. You can find more information about our local chapter here.