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Plastic Free Commitment Blog Series: Say “No Thanks!” to Straws

October 13, 2015
By: Rachel Harvey, Plastic Free Hawaiʻi Program Manager

The Plastic Free Hawai‘i Commitment Card is made up of 10 independent and important commitments that can help reduce your plastic footprint. Our fourth commitment in this series is: Say “No Thanks!” to Straws. According to Ocean Conservancy, straws and stirrers are the 7th most common item found littered on beaches.

One of Plastic Free Hawaii’s goals is to help communities become more aware of what we consume. In other words, it’s not just about bringing your own bag or bottle. One item that slips in and out of our daily life with little notice, but creates a lot of waste is single-use plastic straws.

The use of a drinking straw type implement dates back to the cradle of civilization in Mesopotamia around 5000 BC. Paper straws were invented in America in 1888 and marketed to soda shops and hospitals. The ubiquitous plastic straw was born in the 1960s (Sources).

In smoothies, coffees, and sodas, we slurp through straws at an alarming rate. Did you know, we go through an estimated 500 million straws a day in the US? The folks at Eco-Cycle add, “500 million straws could fill over 127 school buses each day, or more than 46,400 school buses every year! 500 million straws per day is an average of 1.6 straws per person (in the US) per day. Based on this national average, each person in the US will use approximately 38,000 or more straws between the ages of 5 and 65.”

Further, that 500 million does not include small juice box straws. Just one plant in Virginia produces over 4 billion straws a year, and most of these are the little individually wrapped straws attached to single-use drink boxes! A major company in China makes 8000 tons of plastic straws each year for shipping across Asia, Europe, and to a dollar store near you.

The waste from these small straws is making a huge impact! One straw could last 100s of years in a landfill or open environment. Plastic straws are consistently in the top 10 items found at beach cleanups world wide. Miami Beach is actually working to ban straws in restaurants and hotels near the ocean. And although most disposable straws could be recycled (#2 and #5 plastics), very few ever get recycled.

Here are a few tips to get you saying “No Thanks!” to Straws:

  • Tell your server in advance, “No straws, please”. This can be done for yourself or for your whole table if you are with a group. Remember this step not only at sit-down restaurants, but when you order at fast food and convenience markets, too. If you forgot your reusable cup at the coffee shop, you might get a straw in your cold drink!
  • Avoid single-use drink boxes or pouches with a straw attached. Buy in bulk, preferably in glass, or make your own drinks, when you can.
  • If you must have straws for a party, look for compostable or paper options. Unlike plastic, these can have fun designs and patterns on them!
  • Purchase reusable glass or stainless steel straws for use at home or in your to go kit.

Watch for more posts in our Top Ten ways to reduce plastic series.