Straws by Request Only

Published on February 8th, 2017

by Robyn Albritton, Sustainability Director, Sailors for the Sea
Straws are consistently on the top 10 lists for marine debris collected every year during the International Coastal Cleanup. It is estimated that Americans use a whopping 500 million straws per day – a number that, end-to-end, could circle the planet 2.5 times. Now imagine this number compounded on a global scale.

While it seems simple, straws create a pressing threat to our oceans because they are made to be disposable, and on average are used for just 10 minutes. Plastic straws are rarely recyclable, requiring special facilities, and they almost always end up in a landfill, or worse the ocean.

Over their lifespan in the ocean, the straw breaks down into smaller and smaller, even microscopic pieces. Pieces so small that single-celled organisms and other marine life eat them – the plastic remains forever – and then starts back up the food chain. Shocking photos of straws in sea turtles noses and the stomachs of seabirds can easily be found online.

Trash on the small Caribbean island of Antigua is a big problem; with landfills growing beyond capacity, recycling must be shipped off island. The country also prides itself on its beautiful beaches, and humans along with sea turtles flock to them.

Antigua Sailing Week has been working with the Sailors for the Sea Clean Regattas program since 2009. A partnership with the Environmental Awareness Group of Antigua has enabled them to improve certification over the years. In 2015, they started the straw battle utilizing the best practice Responsible Dinnerware. This standard encourages regattas to eliminate single-use plastics, including straws.

While this concept seems really easy – as simple as not purchasing straws –habits are hard to break. Recognizing that many sailors would be dining at local bars and restaurants, race organizers expanded beyond the docks.

The Antigua & Barbuda Marine Association took the mission even further, continuing the ‘Skip the Straw’ initiative long after the regatta was over and expanding to hotels. Local business owners easily opted-in by posting signs that say “Straws by Request Only.”

Many locals have seen the issue of plastic pollution washing up on their beaches over the years and know the negative impacts plastic has on their environment. These signs create a catalyst for action and institute an easy behavior change. They also create an amazing education moment for those who aren’t aware of the 8 million metric tons of plastic that enters the ocean every year.

Using straws is so ingrained in our culture that the key to this movement is removing the straws altogether. Individuals can request they not be given one, but are at the mercy of the bartender or waiter who have been trained to add them.

Take Action
• Join in and next time you out to eat, ask for no straw. Remind your server or bartender when the drink is served too. If you accidentally end up with a plastic straw, reuse it on the next drink instead of going through multiple straws.
• Purchase reusable straws that are great for on the go. There are many options available including bamboo, stainless steel, glass, and silicone. They’re easy to throw in your purse or suit coat too.
• Get your yacht club or sailing club to take action and remove straws. It’s as easy as not purchasing them, and it will save money too!

Article courtesy of Sailors for the Sea, the leading conservation organization that engages, educates, inspires and activates the sailing and boating community toward healing the ocean. Sailors for the Sea’s 2017 Ocean Watch magazine can be found at: http://bit.ly/OceanWatchMagazine2017

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