Marvin Stone invented the first paper straw in 1888. If he were alive today, he'd probably be shocked to learn that plastic garbage including massive piles of plastic straws accumulate in five large ocean areas, known as gyres. In the US alone, it is estimated that over 500 million straws are used (and thrown away) each and every day. Most of those straws wind up in our oceans where they pollute the water and kill marine life. if humans don't act now...right now...by 2050 there'll be more plastic in the ocean than there will be fish, by weight.
By now, you may be wondering why these plastic straws aren't being recycled. And it's a great question! I wondered that myself. it turns out that most plastic straws are too lightweight to make it through the mechanical recycling sorter. Instead, they drop through sorting screens and mix with other materials and are too small to separate, contaminating recycling loads or getting disposed of as garbage. Now I don't mean to imply that humans humans are deliberately tossing their used straws into the oceans. In fact, most straws wind up in the ocean due to human error; a) left on beaches in coastal communities globally, b) they're littered, or c) they are blown out of overfilled trash cans or out of windows of passing cars, or off from transport boats or personal watercraft. It's wise to remember that all gutters and storm drains eventually empty out into our oceans!
When plastic does make it into the sea, it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces called microplastics. They don't simply biodegrade or dissolve. These tiny pieces of plastic can be fatal to marine life, including fish. Microplastics also contain PBA which interferes with reproductive systems in marine life. It also produces styrene monomer which is a suspected carcinogen.
Here are a few staggering statistics for you just in case you still need convincing that plastic straws are a terrible idea. By 2050, it is estimated that every single seabird species will have ingested some plastic. Their mortality rate then jumps to 50%. One in two birds will die from eating this plastic. Already, research has shown some level of plastic in sea salt. Ninety-four percent of US tap water has particles of plastic in it. And so does shellfish! Scientists at the UGA New Materials Institute have discovered "microplastics particles smaller than dust or powdered sugar inside baby sea turtles. Of the turtles who were studied in this research, 100% were found to have eaten plastic. These baby sea turtles were likely dying due to ingested plastic pollution, which threatens the species’ survival."
Anyone who has had a stroke, has autism, MS or other life-changing physical issue needs a straw. Little children often need them, too. So what about them, how can they help? There are compostable straws available that can work. But even these straws have big issues! While compostable plastic straws are good in theory, they can be disposed of incorrectly by individuals when there is a lack of information on public composting depositories. Compostable straws are designed to break down in compost facilities, not in seawater. Not everyone has a composting facility near them. So what, then, is the best solution for children, folks with physicals needs, and those humans who insist upon drinking their beverage through a straw? StrawlessOceans.org recommends using paper straws. Perhaps Marvin Stone didn't realize that in a hundred years plus, his invention would be more relevant and more necessary than when paper straws first gained world attention.
So how can you observe #NationalSkipTheStrawDay? For most of us, the easiest way is to pick up the glass and tip it back as our parents taught us to do when we were four or five. It may take some practice and maybe both hands. There are other fun, eco-friendly, healthy options.
1. Bamboo straws are renewable, reusable and biodegradable.
2. Paper straws, while still disposable, are biodegradable and from a renewable source.
3. Glass straws are coming in durable, colorful designs fit for a variety of beverages.
4. Stainless steel straws are an option for those of us who like our cold drinks really cold!
Other ways you can observe this day are;
Volunteer to help clean up your local beaches, parks or neighborhoods. Take note of how many straws are included in all the litter. Plan ahead. Do you frequent fast food restaurants or get beverages to go? You will often receive the straw before you have the chance to say no. Be prepared when you order to request your drink without a straw.
National Skip the Straw Day was created by Coral Keepers, a group of students and teachers from Whitehall Middle School in Whitehall, Michigan in 2017. And the world's oceans and coral reefs owe them a debt of gratitude for bringing this serious crisis to our attention. Remember to tell everyone, NO PLASTIC STRAWS. Not just today, but every day. Oceans are home to many different life forms. Let's all vow to give them a fighting chance.
That does it for me this week. I wish you all a very pleasant weekend and invite you back here again on Monday. Stay safe. Stay well. Stay plastic straw free.