Last week, in a 4th grade classroom, we shared with kids some of the items we found during our shoreline cleanups. “In-and-Out straws!” and “A Starbucks straw!” the students shouted out as they recognized some of the plastic items. As the kids traced the path of the straws take from their drink through their watershed to the ocean, they quickly identified us, humans, as the cause of the plastic pollution. These kids were clever though, and they identified us, humans, as the solution as well. Their solutions ranged from simple (“Say no to straws!” & “Recycle”) to more fanciful (robots that eat plastic and trash and convert it to clean water).
Everyday, estimated million plastic straws* are used in the United States alone, and many of those straws end up in our watersheds and shorelines and can take hundreds of years to decompose. That is extraordinary when you think about how quickly the little plastic straws outlive their utility; just think how quickly you drank your last iced coffee! At International Coastal Cleanup Day events, including ours along the SF Bay shoreline, straws consistently make the top ten list of most commonly found items. I am currently sitting in an Oakland coffee shop, and on this unseasonably warm afternoon, seven drinks around me have bright red straws jauntenly poking up out of the top.
Despite near ubiquitous nature, in many ways, saying no to straws can be one of the most accessible environmental choices we can make. As we sip soda and juice, iced tea and coffee throughout our day, as a consumer, we can ask our server not to give us a plastic straw and opt out of picking one up ourselves. All those little choices are small, but mighty. They spark conversation and raise important questions our plastic habits.
California lawmakers are looking into other solutions as well, including AB-1884 which would prohibit restaurants from providing single-use plastic straws unless requested by the consumer. The fate of this bill is still unknown, but stay tuned! Even if it fails, the fight against plastic straws is not going away. If you still want to use straws, there are more sustainable options! Use a reusable metal straw or a compostable paper straw and you can enjoy your drink while saving the planet.
So, until we have our plastic eating robots to chew our straws into clean water, let’s say no to plastic straws!
*A previous version of this article cited a statistic that 500 million articles are used in the US daily. However, upon further investigation (and a reader’s insight – thank you!), this statistic, while widely cited, may not pass the smell test. Safe to say, however, Americans do use a lot of straws! Can we get some good research into this, please?