If you are like me, one of the first things you look for when you are handed your order is the straw for your beverage. With little thought to what happens to that straw when we are done with it, we are often given one without even asking for it. That straw doesn’t just disappear! It ends up in a landfill or worse, in the environment or the ocean where it can be detrimental to marine life. An astonishing, 500 million straws are used and discarded every single day in the United States. Right here in Charleston, where I live, the Charleston Chapter of Surfrider Foundation has picked up close to one thousand straws from our beaches and waterways during litter sweeps. Those straws, some of which contain BPA, can not be recycled nor washed in a dishwasher and reused. You say, “Well, what about compostable straws?” They are just as concerning since they must be in an industrial compost facility to properly degrade. In the ocean, they only photodegrade into smaller pieces which then can be ingested by marine life and land animals. It is then in OUR food chain.
I learned about the effort to take on the problem here in Charleston at a nutrition class I have been attending. After class, my aunt and went to grab a bite to eat and as I reached for a straw to place in my drink I realized this is bigger than just the Lowcountry, this is a global problem. What happens in our oceans affects everyone on this planet. The #StrawlessSummer Challenge kicked off here in June. In the Lowcountry, our restaurants and bars have been challenged to only provide straws to patrons who request them. With many participating, I am excited that by doing this fewer straws have made it into our local landfills, beaches, oceans, waterways, and roadsides just in the month that it has been happening.
We as consumers can get in on the challenge, too. When ordering a beverage out, tell your waitstaff, cashier, or expeditor, “No straw, please!” If you must have a straw to drink with, just carry a reusable straw and wash it when you get home. Each of us can do our part to stem the tide of the plastic pollution epidemic by curbing our plastic habits.
There are events, movements, and challenges happening all across the country. Check with your local groups and foundations to learn more about the many wonderful things that they are doing for our environment. Can’t find anything local, the EWG site is a wonderful place to learn more. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to protecting human health and the environment.