By Juliana Gonzalez
Going trash free is a tall order for a mom of two young children. I have already made all the easy cuts to my trash-generating lifestyle. I pack a waste free lunch for my kids during the week and do not over indulge in plastic toys and trinkets that the kids can’t live without one minute, and then forget about the next. However, with so many temptations in our busy lives, it is always a challenge to live plastic-free. We sometimes go out on the weekends and end up eating the not so healthy burger, fries and ice cream treats. Not to mention the juice and cracker packs we pick up when we are out and about and unprepared for snack time. Convenience is the rule, and how can you say “no” to the adorable six-year-old who ate all her vegetables and just wants a bit of dessert? Or, to the thirsty toddler who cannot hear the word “no” without screaming at the top of his lungs?
Despite the challenges, I am determined to make choices that help prevent marine debris. Recently, I took a new step to avoid single-use plastic items. I am cutting out one thing that I am sure I can live without. I am saying no to disposable STRAWS. Because straws really suck.
As Contra Costa County’s Coordinator for Coastal Cleanup Day and the Adopt-a-Beach Program, I help to organize multiple beach and shoreline cleanups each year. At every location we find straws, straws, and more straws. We often play a game with youth groups to help match the straw to a particular vendor and often students recognize the source of the straw by the color or pattern. McDonald’s has the white straw with red and yellow stripes, Jamba Juice has the orange straw and Wendy’s has the white straw with the yellow stripe. However, there are too many straws that are just generic and could have come from any small vendor in the watershed, so the strategy of going to a particular vendor and shaming them into keeping their straws out of our watershed is not a solution. Straws and lids rank number 8 on the list of most commonly found items during Coastal Cleanup Day around the world, and they rank 5th in Contra Costa County. Last September alone, volunteers collected an amazing 3,059 straws from shorelines and creeks in Contra Costa County. And that is just a snapshot of a moment in time before the rains wash them away into the Bay.
Straws really remind us that the ocean and shoreline are at the bottom of our watersheds. So, anything that ends up on the streets could run into the storm drain and eventually to the ocean. Straws are found everywhere on the planet and normally are accompanied by the also-made-out-of-plastic lid. Both of these items are a symbol of our convenience driven lifestyle. We value being able to eat as we drive or walk, and we enjoy the pleasure of not having to wash the dishes. But the problem is that convenience today comes with a heavy price for the future of our planet.
We need to slow down and order ‘for here’ when we go out to eat. The ocean is downstream from all of us, and it’s our common responsibility to keep it clean, swimmable and safe for all species. Join my pledge to free the ocean from straws and remember to say, “No straw please.” Because straws suck.