In the scheme of your daily life, the straw you used for your iced tea at lunch probably doesn’t get much airtime. You might even have to think for a moment to remember how many straws you’ve used in the last few days. Straws are sneaky like that, because anytime you order a drink in a restaurant, or take one to-go, there’s a good chance you’ll receive a straw to go along with it.
It seems innocuous enough, unless you’ve seen the viral video of a sea turtle with a straw stuck up its bleeding nose. Or volunteered to help clean up a coastline, where hundreds of thousands of discarded straws are found annually.1 Or heard that, according to environmental advocacy group Ocean Conservancy, some plastic products persist for so long, even in salty ocean water, that they’ll still be recognizable after 400 years.2
Then it begins to sink in that every piece of plastic counts. Even one straw. Especially one straw, because, if you think about it, would you even miss it if it weren’t there?
How to Take Part in ‘No Straw November’
A campaign is growing to end the use of plastic straws, which are arguably one of the easiest pieces of plastic waste to eliminate from your life. Nonetheless, doing so could have a tremendous impact worldwide. According to the Be Straw Free campaign, Americans use 500 million straws daily, which doesn’t even account for all of the straws that come attached to juice and milk cartons (including those handed out in school cafeterias).3
Sustainability coordinator for Monterey, California, Ted Terrasas said in a press release, “That’s equivalent to 175 billion straws per year, which is enough straws to wrap around the Earth 2.5 times per day!”4 It’s a staggering number for something most people don’t even need. Slowly, cities around the U.S. have taken notice, with California’s Manhattan Beach enacting a city-wide disposable plastic ban.
Others, including Berkeley, California; Miami, Florida; and New York City, as well as 1,800 restaurants, are considering bans on straws or at least have pledged to only hand them out if customers request them.5 Carmel, California is among those cities that voted to ban straws, with restaurants only being allowed to hand out biodegradable straws starting in 2018.6
The City of Monterey, California is even heading up the No Straw November campaign, which was the brainchild of high school student Shelby O’Neil, who formed Jr Ocean Guardians for her 2017 Girl Scout of America Gold Award Project, with a mission of reducing usage of single-use plastics.7 To take part, the city of Monterey suggests:8
• Tell wait staff you do not want a straw if they automatically provide one
• If you do want a straw, keep the same one if you are refilling your drink
• Help spread awareness of ways you are participating in the campaign on social media by following and sharing #NoStrawNovember
They’re also encouraging businesses and other groups who provide straws to stop doing so as a matter of course and instead hand them out only when they’re requested. Businesses are also encouraged to use compostable, biodegradable or reusable straws for those they do provide.
Increasing Realization That ‘Straws Suck’
Straws have been around for a long time, but the earliest versions were as environmentally friendly as things come, made from straw or hollow grass stalks. It wasn’t until the 1880s that a man, Marvin Stone, got the idea to make a paper straw in order to make drinking his mint julep easier. In 1937, the bendy straw was born, and this unnecessary novelty quickly became a veritable necessity. Author and environmental activist David Suzuki writes:9
“The explosion of plastic’s popularity in the 1960s and into the ’70s spelled the demise of the paper straw. After that, most drinking straw innovations were as much about marketing as function — including the twisty Krazy Straw and the wide straw-and-spoon combo used to drink slushy drinks.”
The Surfrider Foundation, an environmental nonprofit group started by a group of Malibu, California, surfers in 1984, is among those trying to get the word out about straws. In the past, Surfrider has led campaigns against discarded cigarette butts and plastic bags, and their new "Straws Suck" campaign has the same focus: clean water, healthy beaches and accessible coastlines.10
Like the "No Straw November" campaign, Surfrider’s Straws Suck is urging people to stop using straws and businesses to stop handing them out, especially without being asked.