It’s there before you know it—in your cup, staring at you: the ubiquitous plastic straw. The bendy piece of plastic that has been accompanying beverages for decades.
A disposable plastic straw is used on average for a whopping 20 minutes. It’s longer than the four-second lifespan of the plastic stirrer you may use to swizzle your coffee or tea, but 20 minutes is still just a tiny fraction of the several hundred years it could spend in a landfill. One straw may seem insignificant, but consider this: someone who uses one straw a day for the next decade will toss 3,650 pieces of plastic into the landfill—and there’s a chance that plastic may get lost along the way and end up in the ocean.
Over the past quarter century, straws have routinely been one of the top ten items found on beaches around the world during the International Coastal Cleanup. How many? Ocean Conservancy volunteers have picked up so many straws from beaches and waterways that when laid end-to-end; they would span a distance equal to California’s 840 miles of coastline. And last year alone, enough disposable plastic straws were found to pop one into your beverage every day for the next 1,250 years. Don’t think it’s a problem? Some communities have actually banned straws entirely to reduce trash on the nearby beaches.
Still, good news for straw lovers: There are plenty of options for trash-free sipping. We all have a drawer of reusable silverware at home, so why not toss in a few reusable straws. Glass, stainless steel, bamboo and BPA-free plastic are all trash free options and the best part is they often come in packs of four, which means you can slurp trash-free at home, at the office and on the go. Whether you bring your own straw or decide to go straw-free the next time you dine out, remember to ask your server to hold the straw. If enough people ask for drinks without straws, servers could decide to ask customers first before automatically handing them out.
Although most disposable straws can be recycled (#2 and #5 plastics), most straws do not get recycled. For that reason, request a straw-less beverage or get a reusable straw so that we keep disposable straws out of the landfill and keep our beaches trash-free.
The coast of southeast Alaska is renowned for its stunning beauty, and the pocket beach outside the town of Sitka was no exception: dark sand piled with tangles of storm-tossed logs and fringed with emerald grass. From a distance, the beach looked pristine.
But as our boat pulled closer, we began to see what we had come for: trash. Chunks of polystyrene foam, plastic bottles, lengths of line, bits of faded blue tarp and pieces of netting were wedged in the piles of driftwood and strewn in the beach grass. It was time to get to work.
I was in Sitka to take part in a series of beach cleanups that brought together staff from Ocean Conservancy, the Marine Conservation Alliance Foundation and the Sitka Sound Science Center, along with volunteers from Allen Marine and Holland America Line. Together, we set out to find and remove marine debris that had washed up on the shores of nearby islands.
Debris collected from Transect #1 at Sea Paradise Beach -- Nick Mallos
Mawar is the Malaysian word for rose, but Typhoon Mawar has been nothing but a thorn since we arrived in Yokohama, Japan. Like hurricanes, typhoons form when tropical depressions escalate into cyclones; in the Pacific, these cyclones are called typhoons, while in the Atlantic they are known as hurricanes.
This past weekend, Mawar delivered heavy rain and sustained winds of 110 mph to the Philippines, gusting up to 130 mph and taking the lives of eight Filipinos. We felt peripheral effects of Mawar in Japan as intensifying winds and strong gusts jostled boats and tested the strength of dock lines in the marina.
We can all do our part to help reduce plastic waste by choosing products and takeout that use less or more sustainable packaging. But personal choice will only go so far.
Meaningful change has come from the top — from the companies wrapping our to-go sandwiches, packaging our frozen dinners and making the plastic that keeps it all fresh and ready to grab off the shelves. Continue reading »
Plastic doesn't just disappear; it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces. Scientists are just starting to understand the impacts fragmented plastics have on our ocean. Photo credit: NOAA
A “gigantic floating island of trash.” The media has been full of stories about an ocean drowning in plastic for years. It’s great that public awareness about ocean trash has skyrocketed, but awareness built on fundamental misconceptions won’t lead to durable, long term solutions—particularly with respect to plastics. What we need now is rigorous scientific analysis of both the scope of the problem and the best ways to solve it.
I’ve been to—and sailed through—the North Pacific Gyre and the reality is that there is no huge, floating island of trash twice the size of Texas – instead, large areas of the Pacific are a sort of trash soup containing lots of small bits of plastic. And I mean LOTS. Of course to most, the size or viscosity of the trash in the ocean misses the point. Trash shouldn’t be in the ocean; it’s a problem we can and should collectively solve.
But as a scientist, I know that compared to other areas of ocean research, the science of marine debris is still in its infancy and evolving quickly. Continue reading »