Plastic straws suck. Literally.
By Katelin Sung, Grade 8
As you sit, sipping your drink from a plastic straw, you’re most likely dreaming about what you’re going to have for lunch...not the millions of sea creatures that die each year from plastic waste. That’s right, 100 million marine animals die per year from plastic waste alone (1). Ranked 9th on a list of the 42 most common debris collected along the coast, straws on the beaches and in oceans are dangerous, especially to birds and sea turtles who might accidentally ingest them (3). It’s estimated that 90% of birds have consumed plastic at one point, the most common plastic being plastic straws from juice boxes (4). Sea turtles also often mistake lightweight, floating plastic like straws and bags for food. Their species is already critically endangered, and our overuse of plastic makes the problem worse. Helping sea turtles also saves the huge role they play in the ecosystem and the beaches, which we utilize and enjoy so frequently.
Now you may be thinking, out of all the plastic waste in the ocean, what impact could my one straw make? Well, your singular straw might not make too much of a difference, but combined with all the straws used by other Americans out there, the number climbs to over 500 million straws thrown away per day (2). Although a small number of straws are recycled, most of them end up flowing into the world’s oceans because they’re too lightweight to make it through certain machines in the recycling process and are easily blown out of trash cans before they reach landfills (2). The plastic straws—your straw—end up in places where sea creatures can find and eat them.
So now that you know all this about the terrible things straws are capable of, how can you play your part to prevent these effects? Let’s just start with an unpopular choice: paper straws. They get soggy too quickly, but think of the benefits to the environment: paper is biodegradable, and thus is no longer a threat to marine life. At least now every time you sip, you won’t have to feel guilty about your contribution to turtle death. There are also other plant-based straws you could use in place of plastic or paper straws, like bamboo straws. Perhaps the easiest option is just not using a straw for your beverages. Simply bringing your cup to your mouth instead of using deadly plastic may decrease the number of straws factories manufacture and can literally save lives.
We all have to pull our own, small weight to lower the staggering numbers of marine animals suffering from human carelessness. By subtly changing our habits, we could really slow down the deterioration of our ecosystem and the world we share with our fellow inhabitants.
Cover photo from National Geographic