500 million straws are used every day worldwide, making straws one of the top ten items collected every year during ocean conservation cleanups. According to the International Coastal Cleanup, upwards of nine million straws and stirrers have been picked up from beaches and waterways over its 30+-year history. Fortunately for the planet, straws are not a necessity and many environmentally friendly, sustainable alternatives are available.
National Skip The Straw Day, which is annually observed on the fourth Friday in February, encourages everyone to slurp beverages without the aid of straws. The intention is to have 500 million fewer straws end up in landfills or oceans on National Skip The Straw Day. Eliminating plastic straws from your life is a forward stride toward creating a healthier environment for marine life. Plastic straws are made out of polypropylene, colorants, and plasticizers, and these do not biodegrade naturally. When burned, they release toxic chemicals into the air, but most end up in the ground or oceans, and these toxins can hang around for 400 years. All of the plastic straws that have ever been used still exist in some fashion on this planet.
Slurp Through Time
Straws were not always plastic. Long before the invention of plastic straws, people used bamboo and natural rye grass. Paper straws were invented because Marvin Stone grew tired of slurping beverages through grass tubes. All he did was wrap paper around a pencil and that was the original concept of his invention. His paper straw was patented on January 3rd, 1888, and the first machine to roll his straws was invented in 1906. He had it right, and now we are circling back to his invention because plastic straw use has gotten out of hand.
Here’s What You Can Do
A group of students from Whitehall Middle School in Whitehall, MI, founded national Skip The Straw Day in 2017. If young people are that motivated to bring about positive environmental change, adults can follow suit. The problem is that most people are conditioned to have plastic straws accompany their beverages. It takes time, but it is possible to break away from old habits. Here are a few things you can do to eliminate plastic straws from your life.
- Buy a few reusable straws. There are bamboo straws, silicone straws, stainless steel straws, and other eco-friendly reusable options.
- You can purchase a reusable wide-mouthed water bottle that either has a built-in straw cap or a different cap that is easy to drink from. If you don’t make it easy on yourself, you’ll revert to using plastic straws.
- Plan ahead by carrying a reusable straw with you at all times. Some companies have started to make reusable straw key chains. They fold into compact shapes and are perfectly good straws. These are very useful if you are traveling or eating out.
- Finally, go beyond ditching the plastic straw and head to a beach, park, or simply walk around your neighborhood to clean up trash, plastics, and straws. Just take note of how many straws you see.