Home Editorial Leave Only Footprints: The Last Straw in our Dependency on Plastic

Leave Only Footprints: The Last Straw in our Dependency on Plastic

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While some articles dive into terrifying statistics about the impact plastic straws make on the accumulating rubbish filling the landfills and our waterways other articles offer us a slightly different picture. One statistic making rounds on social media state that if all the straws in the world ended up in the ocean it would account for 0.03 percent of all plastics in the ocean. This number seems significantly smaller than the hype surrounding the use and elimination of plastic straws – but is this more of the catalyst to address the growing plastics situation?

Editorial By Selene Muldowney

Do feel a tinge of guilt when you place that disposable straw?

In 2015 a group found a sea turtle with a straw firmly lodged in his nasal cavity reaching into his throat impeding his ability to breath, his sense of smell, and most importantly his ability to find food.  – the video went viral capturing the attention of over 6 million people. Almost overnight this sole turtle became the poster child for the anti-plastic straw campaign.

Single use plastic straws have stirred up a large controversy, mainly their effect on the environment and animal welfare.  Many companies have taken on the challenge of eliminating the use of plastic straws including iconic brew masters like Starbucks who recently announced they would eliminate plastic straws by 2020. Most recently Seattle, WA became the largest city to take on this challenge and banned the use of plastic straws joining other municipalities in Florida and California. Companies across the country including hotel chains and passenger airlines also have announced plans to phase out the use of plastic straws.

However, as momentum to gain the ban increases, advocates for people with disabilities are concerned with the affect this will have on people who rely on straws for daily living. The use of straws in many cases are a matter of life and death as noted by many care givers.  While there are alternative straws available on the market resistance from ADA advocates and people with disabilities are citing numerous reasons why alternatives simply won’t match the use power of the single use plastic straw; metal straws conduct heat and cold, biodegradable straws fall apart, and silicone straws are inflexible. Too be fair to the City of Seattle, the ban on plastic straws does include a waiver to restaurants to offer single use plastic straws for customers who need them for medical or physical reasons.

We can all agree plastic is an issue – an accumulating issue and it does need resolution, but what do the numbers say?

That is a good question since the reports vary by state, who conducted the survey, and what the concentration of the study was on. In one report a nine year old boy reportedly cited Americans use 500 million straws on average a day based on phone calls he made to households in 2011.  Another report suggested straws make up more than seven percent of all plastics by piece yet in the same report plastic bottle caps alone accounted for nearly seventeen percent.

So what do the overall numbers tell us about plastics in general?

What we know:

More plastic was produced this past decade than in the combined years since industrialization. A majority of plastics used are single use, discarded, and only a fraction recycled or repurposed.

Microplastics could contribute to the “plastic soup” polluting the world’s oceans.

Some statistics suggest microplastics account for just eight percent of total mass in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP) but account for 94% of the pieces: they are small, hard to remove, and extremely dangerous to marine life.

Plastics include microplastics, fishing lines and nets, single use flatware and tableware, bags, straws, furniture, toys, and so forth with approximately 60% buoyant with the balance sinking ir left to be stranded along coastlines or ingested by marine life.

Fishing nets and lines account by weight for the majority of the GPGP accounting for approximately 46% of the mass. Ghost nets are tremendously demanding on ocean life and marine habitats now accounting for more than 20% of this mass.

So why does this all matter and how does it relate to single use straws?

If all the plastic straws, 500 million a day per one estimate, were to end up in the ocean in any given year they would potentially account for .03%. While this number seems fairly inconsequential when looking at the overall GPGP mass of “plastic soup”; straws are a part of the problem and more importantly shed light on the other top plastic contributors including plastic bags, to go containers, single use cups et al. While it may seem straws are low hanging fruit for environmentalists to pursue so fervently, they are that essential conversation starter to encourage consumers to make more conscientious decisions overall. Many ocean and marine advocacy groups believe that by banning straws, potentially an insignificant source of the plastics in the GPGP, will affect greater change and advocacy for stronger resolutions to eliminate single use plastics and find alternate solutions.

On July 16 a dead sea turtle reignited this fiercely debated topic as its carcass washed ashore onto Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge in Alabama, its body entangled in a beach chair. These images and stories are compelling and disheartening.

We can all agree we have to deal effectively with the garbage and waste we produce; however, the solutions are not clear nor agreed upon. In the interim we can as individuals make an impact by conscientiously deciding to reduce our dependency on single use plastics by using alternate eco-friendly options, make recycling habitual, and choosing natural fibers instead of those textiles made with microplastics.

In my personal quest to change my habits and reduce my dependency on plastics I carry with me a reusable cup with reusable straw to coffee shops, repurposed those reusable cups when they no longer serve their original intent to use in the home and garden, ask for glassware when eating at local cafes instead of their disposable plates and cups, asked for silverware instead of plastic butter knives, refused straws in restaurants, taken to-go containers for restaurants I know will result in extra foods (sometimes I forget), and using reusable water bottles with filters when possible instead of plastic bottles (at events for example). One thing I had not found was a reusable straw that I liked so in my quest I found a Kickstarter campaign I could wholeheartedly support and to date I have not been disappointed.

FinalStraw’s mission is to reduce plastic use by providing people a convenient, collapsible, reusable alternative. The team, including FinalStraw’s brainchild Emma Cohen, hope to make people more aware of the devastating effects of plastic pollution and utilize that awareness to pressure restaurants to stop serving straws. Cohen, an avid diver was heartbroken when she returned year after year to her favorite diving locations and seeing the rise in plastic pollution.  Her team mates, Miles Pepper, a cinematographer by trade and the envisioner for FinalStraw and Jessica Girard, Director of Membership of the Helena Group Foundation, hope this reusable straw will reduce waste and create change in in single use plastic consumption.

This lightweight, 2.8 oz straw is made of stainless steel with medical-grade tubing and housed in 100% recycled ABS when not in use.  Available in four colors and seriously convenient to carry around attached to your keychain. Easy to use, the straw assembles itself when pulled from the housing, dishwasher safe, and comes with a lifetime guarantee. One FinalStraw can save 584 plastic straws from entering the ocean each year – imagine what kind of impact 500, 1000, or 150, 000 FinalStraws can make?

I joined the movement shortly after inception, this past May, and have followed the progress as the team begins to finalize the prototype. Each step they take is a step closer to a great alternative solution to single use plastic straw. I cannot wait to try my FinalStraw when it arrives and then I can feel I have made an attempt to make my environment one-straw-less. Even if only a small change – when added together it can create a huge impact.

There are many solutions – we can eliminate our dependency on single use plastic and also meet the needs of the community. It takes effort, imagination, creativity, and a desire to change what we do.

#singleusechallnege #eliminateplastic #ecofriendly #recycyle #finalstraw #alternatesolutions