By: ASHA JOHNSTON
Plastic straws are being brought to light as harmful objects for the environment, and because of this, local restaurants Carmel Belle and Good to Go have been using paper straws over plastic in hopes to save the marine life.
“I decided to do paper straws at my restaurant because I love and appreciate the beauty of where we live,” Carmel Belle owner Jay Dolata says. “I go scuba diving and spearfishing, so I’m in the water a lot, and since nature brings me so much joy I feel like I should give back to nature.”
The program The Last Plastic Straw is bringing awareness to the effect straws have on the environment by making stickers that say “SKIP THE STRAW SAVE THE SEA TURTLE” and by allowing the opportunity to make a pledge to never use a plastic straw again on their website, thelastplasticstraw.org.
Rachel Feltman from The Washington Post states that, worldwide, 52 percent of sea turtles have consumed plastic. This is dangerous for ocean life because when an animal consumes plastic they think they are full, but later die from starvation because no food was actually consumed.
Restaurants such as In-N-Out Burger are following the Last Plastic Straw pledge and making the switch to paper straws to take the step to helping the environment.
“Plastic production has grown from 15 million tons in 1964 to 322 million tons in 2015,” says Laraine Lomax, the Director of Volunteer Engagement at Monterey Bay Aquarium. “The U.S. is 20th on the list of ocean plastic pollution-generating countries. We produce 44,000 to 121,000 tons a year.”
“Plastic pollution is impacting the health of our ocean, rivers and lakes—and the aquatic animals we love—at an increasing rate,” Lomax says, “Each of us has the power to make decisions that will help reduce ocean and freshwater plastic pollution.”
Stainless steel and glass straws in different sizes and shapes can be found at Eco Carmel, a store in downtown Carmel. One small glass straw is $12.25 while the larger one is $13.25 at Eco Carmel, and one stainless steel straw is $2.44 while the stainless steel straw with a spoon attached is $3.95.
Megan Root, the assistant manager of Eco Carmel, states that plastic straws are not compostable and are the number one thing found in beach cleanups, and she recommends the use of paper over plastic because they are compostable and better for the environment.
“We get a few complaints from customers regarding our paper straws,” Dolata says. “But once we tell them why paper straws are much better for the environment, customers have a better understanding. I think that more and more people are being educated on the benefits of paper straws.”
When sea turtles ingest plastic straws, the only way to save them is to get tweezers and pull the straw out from the nose.
“Paper Straws are more expensive than plastic straws,” Dolata says, “and the reason for that is because there is less demand for paper straws. As the demand for paper straws increases, the prices will come down.”
For 1,000 paper straws it costs $60 and for 1,000 plastic straws it costs $12.87.
Not only animals are negatively affected by straws; children often hurt themselves by using plastic straws by cutting their mouths or by choking on the straw. Emily DiFrisco wrote the article “Are Drinking Straws Dangerous?” and says that 1,400 people end up in the emergency room because of straw related injuries.
Another program bringing awareness to straws is the Wahine Project, an organization to help teach girls to surf. They have had speakers from the Last Plastic Straw come and speak with the girls about the effect straws have on the ocean.
“It’s just silly. When we think of drinking water at home or juice or milk, we drink them in open cups, but the minute we have any drink somewhere else we go on autopilot to use a straw as though our ability is impaired to be able to bring a drink to our mouths,” Wahine Project founder Dionne Ybarra says. “The fact that they get used for a few minutes and then tossed is tragic. It’s not a good use of our fossil fuels, and inevitably they end up in the sea.”
Some suggestions are given from the Last Plastic Straw on how to help the cause. For restaurants that do serve plastic straws, there is an easy solution: ask to have a drink without a straw or bring a reusable straw with you. When making this request, informing the server on the reason for not using a straw is a helpful way to spread the word, and it is an easy way to be a part of saving the environment.