Disposable straws

Trigger warning: blood and animal harm.

Plastics found in the ocean. (Credit Wikimedia Commons)

I’ve participated in my share of garbage cleanups around my home town. Canada’s winters will hide a host of detritus to be revealed by meltwaters come spring. Even in a place far from the sea like Ottawa, I am very aware of where all this roadside plastic will end up if we don’t pick it up.

They clog up steams and riverbeds, and eventually back their way to the oceans, where they ride the currents or sink to the seafloor.

And the most abundant things that we find are items that are useful for about 5 minutes. Cigarette butts, waxy disposable cups (of the Tim Horton’s variety mostly!) and plastic bags, lids and straws. All taking hundreds of years to disintegrate.

In our efforts against plastics, we’ve managed to change a few of our habits. Recycling is the final solution, but the best action is to reduce plastics all together. Reusable bags are a given, travel coffee mugs common place. But not the straws. Such a small piece of plastic…

Participate in a Shoreline Cleanup and you will see some of the harmful marine pollution, including lots and lots of single-use plastics.

What do you think happens to all the plastic straws that are used in the world?

Delicious Mai Tai with unappetising single-use plastics. (Credit Samantha McBeth)

Education Officer at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre, and fellow Young Professional attending the World Conservation Congress, Nicole Straughan, was the one you made me aware of how prevalent the use of straws really was.

While dinning in a restaurant, metal utensils and washable dishes are a given.

“But you order a glass of water, or a drink, and it always comes with a plastic straw,” Nicole told us on our first group outing. “You have to tell them not to give you one. Waitstaff should ask you instead.”

Such a simple solution. But you may ask what harm can a single straw do?

Let me tell you about an Olive Ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea).

If you think I write about turtles often you are correct.

Taken in Costa Rica, Biologists Nathan Robinson and Christina Figgener shared these photos on Facebook. This Olive Ridley sea turtle had something constricting its airways and causing pain in its nostril.

The scientist gently removed what ended up being a 10 cm long plastic straw. Ow! 


Plastic straw removal from an Olive Ridley sea turtle. (Credit Nathan Robinson)

During our time in Hawai’i, all congress delegates had endevoured for a plastic-free Congress. We hope everyone brought back those tips and tricks home.

Nicole teaches hundreds of kids and visitors every year how plastics, even the recycled ones, can become harmful marine pollution. Becoming plastic-free is the way to stop risking the health of marine life right at its source.

Now living plastic-free may not be for everyone, but let all challenge ourselves to improve our consumer habits. Here’s some small steps to get you started:

  1. Pick your battles: Start small by picking a few items to remove from your day-to-day. Is it coffee mugs, plastic straws or styrofoam food wrappings?
  2. Preparation: Know your habits. Do you crave that Timmy’s coffee across the street at 10h30? Then keep a mug at your desk. Love to eat on the go? Keep a small kit in your bag, consisting of reusable utensils, cups and a metal straw if you want.
  3. Get started: Don’t worry about yesterday, and don’t push it to tomorrow. Get on it today! You’d be surprised at all the sustainable alternative exist to all the throwaway plastic we use.

So say “no” to straws. A simple action with global impact.

Your Youth Ambassadors say no to all single-use plastics. Just a small part in creating a sustainable world, and protecting marine ecosystems to boot! (Credit Samantha McBeth)


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