Reduce Plastic Pollution in the Ocean: Say "No, Thanks" to Straws

By Maureen Wise in Thinking Sustainably

You've made the commitment to carry a reusable water bottle and coffee cup, and your family has gotten really good at remembering cloth bags for shopping instead of the plastic alternatives. Overall, you're using less single-use plastic and doing better for the Earth. Great job! Not only are you reducing the need for oil extraction to create plastic (a finite natural resource), you're also helping protect the ocean.

Plastic pollution in the ocean is becoming a real concern. By eliminating another single-use item — plastic straws — you can do even more to help wildlife and reduce pollution. Plastic straw bans and public education campaigns are gaining momentum to help turn the tide on ocean plastics.

styrofoam cups with straws on beach

The Facts

National Geographic tells us that eight million tons of plastic trash makes it way into the ocean annually. That is astounding ... and really sad, too. This same article points out that seaborne plastic trash is estimated to outweigh fish by the year 2050!

We don't know the global scale, but Americans alone use 500 million straws every day, writes Saveur. That's over 182 billion straws a year. These numbers are staggering, but what exactly happens to the millions of those straws that end up in the water? Sadly, straws in the ocean are a big problem for wildlife.

Straws in the Spotlight

In 2015, an unfortunate sea turtle became famous while bringing the single-use plastic straw issue to the limelight. National Geographic reports that researchers from Texas A&M University were stationed in Costa Rica studying sea turtles when they filmed the removal a four-inch plastic straw from the nostril of an olive ridley sea turtle and posted it online. The video went viral, and now sea turtles are the poster children for reduction and banning of single-use straws.

To learn about the turtle-saving team's current field work, you can follow them on the Plotkin Lab's research blog. OCEARCH also lets you and your family check out the roaming patterns of sea turtles, sharks, and other ocean animals tagged for research.

Disposable Straw Alternatives

If your kids need help avoiding spills or your milkshake just needs a boost, here are some alternatives to disposable straws to help you reduce plastic pollution in the ocean:

  • Glass straws are a bit more expensive and breakable, but pretty (and a little fancy).
  • Stainless steel slurpers are my favorite option since they're long-lasting and easy to clean
  • Bamboo straws are sustainable and compostable when they wear out.
  • Paper options are also single use, but can be composted.
  • Ice sippers are tricky to make (you may need to buy a special mold) but edible.

You may be tempted by a package of curly and fun reusable plastic straws, but they still have a finite number of uses and will end up on their way to a landfill. In the near future, however, you can look out for edible straws made of seaweed, sugar, and apple peelings, writes EarthBuddies.

loggerhead sea turtle swimming

Just Stop Sucking

Another option is to skip the straw altogether. Unless you have a medical condition or dental issue that requires one, you probably don't need to use a straw to begin with. Straws are too small to be recycled, and because they are so lightweight, they often fall out of trash bags or blow away from roadside litter.

These littered straws make their way into waterways and eventually into the ocean. (Remember that all rivers lead to the ocean and all watersheds are connected.) So reduce your ocean plastic footprint and just stop sucking! Next time you order a drink, tell your server that you don't need a straw.

More to Chew On

So what can you do to help? Take the OneLessStraw pledge, created by kids, and tell your friends and family to do the same to cut single-use straws out of daily life. Check out the documentary "Straws" and the Plastic Pollution Coalition to learn more about scientific research that's fighting ocean plastic. The Surfrider Foundation has a wealth of information and inspiration, as well.

So, are you ready to ditch single-use straws? Tell us about your straw-free journey on Twitter and use the #SkipTheStraw hashtag.

Image source: Pixabay | Pixabay | Unsplash

The views and opinions expressed in any guest post featured on our site are those of the guest author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of Tom's of Maine.

Why It’s Good

Skipping the straw is not only doing good for wildlife while reducing plastic ocean pollution but will also reduce the need to extract oil from the ground to produce plastic.