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The Last Straw

Beginning with the astute observation of a young man, the ubiquitous ban on plastic straws is embraced fully by food and beverage companies, consumers and activists alike. The ban and vilification of single-use plastics are supported and promoted by conservationists, social media campaigns and celebrities who are all working to reduce unnecessary waste. As the most collected object of beach cleanups, and the culprit damage to marine life, the once innocuous straw is now the number one utensil non grata.

Americans use 500 million straws a day (1.6 straws per person) according to the National Park Service. Those straws, made of polypropylene resin, take 200 years to break down, and when they do, become tiny toxic plastic particles.

In 2011, when the then 9-year-old Milo Cress in Burlington Vermont asked the burger joint he frequented to “offer first”, noticing many people didn’t use the straws automatically served. He said, “It seemed like a waste to me.” From that, Milo created BEStrawFree.org, and now, years later, is witnessing overwhelming support in the banning straws, suggesting alternatives to plastics and raising awareness to the problems with single-use plastics.

Number 5 is the recycling code for polypropylene, and although it is the most valuable and recycled plastic around, the demand and recycling potential of straws is minimal because they’re lightweight fitting perfectly into small spaces like storm drains and they literally slip through the cracks at recycling facilities. When straws end up in landfills and wash into the ocean they cause damage to sea creatures both directly and indirectly. The heartwrenching YouTube video of the straw being removed from a Sea Turtle’s nose has had close to 33 million views. According to Greenpeace, “plastic has been found in the stomachs of one in three sea turtles”.

The social media component, #StopSucking #breakFreeFromPlastic, #refusethestraw, and #ditchthestraw along with the support of celebrities like Tom Brady, Neil deGrasse Tyson and Tim Robbins (narrating a documentary befittingly called “Straws”) who use their platform to educate and raise awareness to the impact plastics have on our environment. The UN Environmental Programme’s goodwill ambassador, actor and activist Adrian Grenier believes that straws are “a gateway” that will hopefully lead to the alleviation of other plastics.

There are many viable alternatives to single-use plastic straws, like compostables or a plethora of multi-use sipping variants made of bamboo, seaweed, paper, straw, aluminum, titanium, silicone, and glass. In a restaurant and bar setting, these options are better for the environment and ultimately save money over time. This initiative is embraced by companies large and small in both city and state initiatives. In the effort of minimizing the environmental impact, Global Sustainable Development Director of Diageo adds that “When the use of straws is important to the enjoyment of our brands we will only use reusable, compostable or biodegradable alternatives.” This movement shows no sign of waning, especially for the environmentally conscious drinker.

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