Uncovering Ocean Plastics : Plastic Straws
As you lay on the beach, relaxing and soaking up the sunshine, enjoying your holiday or weekend
getaway or gap year adventure, you reach over and take a sip from your refreshing drink. But have you ever thought twice about what happens to that straw you are using. Have you ever been eco-conscious while abroad?
Ocean plastics are becoming increasingly problematic and environmentally damaging. It has been stated that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish, with single use plastics being the most common source of pollutant. A single use plastic or disposable plastic are used only once and then discarded, these are items such as plastic bags, straws, Styrofoam coffee cups, water bottles and beer/soda can rings. These plastics are used in our everyday lives and are now considered as a convenience plastic. However it is these convenience plastics that have produced a global environmental and marine pollutant.
Plastic has only been in mass production for around 50 years, and globally we produce around 300 million tons of plastic each year, half of which is single use or disposable. If these plastics do not make it to landfill they inevitably find their way into our oceans, and it is here where the greatest environmental damage is caused. It is widely publicised and many people already know that plastic bags and beer/soda can rings are damaging to the environment and end up in the ocean. However, very few people realise that straws are among the top 10 items found during beach clean ups and in the ocean.
Plastic straws have been around for several decades, even though they started life as paper straws, the plastic straws grew in popularity and took over from the paper ones in the 1960s. It is now thought that Britain uses around 8.5 billion of them a year, while America uses over 500million a day. With such excessive numbers in use, plastic straws are polluting our oceans and impacting our aquatic life.
Plastic straws end up in our oceans primarily through human error. They are littered and left on beaches in coastal communities and seaside holiday resorts, or blown into the ocean by the wind, or they inevitably find their way to the ocean via plugholes and drains. Once these straws reach the ocean the impact they have on the marine environment is horrible with many animals mistaking them for food. It’s estimated that 71% of seabirds and 30% of turtles have been found with plastics in their stomachs, and as soon as any marine life has ingested plastic they have a 50% chance of survival. Even more worrying is that plastic does not biodegrade; it just simply breaks down into smaller pieces called microplastics. These microplastics are near impossible to remove from the ocean and recent surveys have since shown them to outnumber plankton, which is the base of the marine food chain. Meaning that as our demand for single use plastics increase and our lack of awareness and understanding of the impact of plastics, such as straws, have on the marine environment, the problem will only continue. Unless we come up with a solution to this ever growing marine impact.
One cool company that has come up with a solution to the plastic straw is Lolistraw. They have created an edible biodegradable straw, it is seaweed based and comes in different flavours, so once you have finished your drink you can simply eat the straw. It aims to replace plastic straws used at high waste venues like stadiums, fast food places and coffee shops. With billions of straws worldwide being discarded daily and as they are too small to be captured by plastic recycling streams they end up in our oceans or landfills. But with the Lolistraw even if they do end up in landfill or the ocean they simply biodegrade.
Another inventive solution to the plastic straw and using 100% natural products is a company called “Straw by Straw”, which is a partner of Sea Going Green! They make straws out of straw. After harvesting corn the remaining straw is hand cut into drinking straws. It is 100% natural with no chemicals or bleach used so the straw keeps its original structure, colour and naturalness. All straws are made from local European producers and farmers, and with it being 100% natural it certainly is a very clever and inventive alternative to a plastic straw.
But besides cool edible straw companies and straws made from straw, you too can do your bit to help the marine environment. All you simply have to do is to refuse the straw, next time you’re
ordering a drink just ask for no straw. Or alternatively many places now are starting to introduce the paper straw so it’s worth asking if the venue use them. You should take these practices with you when you travel as well, not just for use at home. With these little changes and being made more aware of the impact you are having on the marine environment, over time these small changes will add up and our production of plastic straws will begin to reduce, resulting in a cleaner healthier marine environment.