No one wants to ‘draw the short straw’ in any situation. But every time we accept a straw with a drink, our planet and its irreplaceable animal inhabitants are having the short straw drawn for them, and suffering because of our choice to use that near-pointless little piece of plastic.

Each day, around 500 million disposable straws are used; enough straws to fill 127 school busses. If you’re having trouble visualising this, consider: if all of these straws were joined together, they would stretch around the circumference of the planet two and half times.

These plastic straws are not recyclable, and are generally viewed as a one-use product – meaning they will almost all end up in landfills, and eventually the ocean.

Plastic consumption may not always be thought of as an obvious concern, but the hazardous nature of plastic waste and its disastrous effects on wildlife and the planet makes it a key consideration to anyone hoping to ‘live kindly’: plastic kills hundreds of thousands of sea creatures every year.

Within the last 25 years, more than 6 million straws (and stirrers) have been cleared up from beaches during cleaning events. But organised annual beach cleans can’t stop all the straws let alone all of the plastic from getting to the oceans, where the straws will ultimately end up in the digestive systems of whales, fish and other marine life.

Animals eat, or get trapped and strangled by plastic. Turtles and dolphins mistake plastic bags for jellyfish; plastic pellets look like floating fish eggs and kill fish; filter feeders such as lugworms and mussels gobble up microplastic particles on the seabed. Even corals are consuming plastic.

In the North Pacific alone, roughly 12,000 to 24,000 tons of plastic ends up in the digestive systems of fish.

While obviously this is to the detriment of the health of the fish, it also significantly impacts other forms of life: when fish consume plastic, that plastic remains in their systems and becomes a part of the food chain. Thus, animals such as dolphins, seals and even humans who consume fish are affected. It is estimated that worldwide about 100,000 marine animals unintentionally consume plastic every single year. Studies have found that 71% of seabirds and 30% of turtles ingest plastic and this greatly increases an animal’s mortality rate.

To explain how plastic ends up in so many of our digestive systems, it is helpful to understand the ‘break down’ (as opposed to rotting) of plastic – such as straws – in the oceans. Gyres are circular ocean currents caused by both the Earth’s wind pattern and the planet’s rotation; there are 5 major gyres in our oceans. The circular movement of gyres draws in debris, and eventually traps it, creating what is appropriately called a ‘garbage patch’. The biggest of these today is the Great Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch, which is estimated to be the same size as a continent. Basically, huge. It contains more than 100 million tons of debris, of which an alarming 80% comes from products used in land-based activities. Think that our waste – your straws included – doesn’t end up in the oceans? Think again.

When this amount of waste is concentrated together, the plastic begins to slowly and partially break down. During this process, the plastic leaches toxins into the ocean, contaminating marine food chains.

(This also provides another reason to give up eating fish – not only are they already soiled with mercury, but plastic contamination is now also a huge health threat.)

The state of our oceans is appalling, and we must take action to remedy what we have caused. In the last forty years half of all marine life has disappeared. Industrial scale fishing can be blamed for the massive quantities of fish being plundered from the ocean but we are responsible for the destruction of the marine habitats.

We have created ocean pollution, coastal development and the greenhouse gas emissions which increase water temperatures and promote acidification, destroying coral reefs where one quarter of marine life live. Humans are using the ocean as a trash-can.

Plastic constitutes 90% of all waste in the oceans, and in 2014 the Ocean Conservancy ranked straws as the number five most popular found items, behind wrappers, bottle caps and cigarette butts. And this is so unnecessary – you do not need that straw.

Rather than accepting a straw at a bar, a party, a restaurant, show that straw the door (just say no).

Instead, take your own re-usable straw with you; there are plenty of options readily available to buy online, and the impact of not wasting straws will be more significant than you can imagine. It’s really a worth-while (moral more than financial) investment.

So please, there’s really no excuse – you need to stop sucking.

If you want to even further than ditching the straw, consider becoming an ocean guardian and start making waves in plastic-free progress.

For a quick educational video about the amount of plastic in the ocean, click here!

You should also check out the incredible documentary-film ‘A Plastic Ocean’ and keep an eye out for the upcoming ‘Blue the Film.’

 

 


Image Credits: The Central Shaft | Blue the Film

 

Comments