As I sit at a restaurant with my family, the waitress sets down our drink order and drops a straw next to each cup. “No thanks,” I say sliding the straw back towards her. Most of my family does the same, and the waitress puts them back in her apron pocket with a confused look on her face. In America, it is common practice to use a straw to drink while eating at a restaurant. It is ingrained in waitresses’ routines to drop one down for every person at the table, and most people begin to unwrap it without even thinking.
But why do we use them? Is tilting our glass upwards too hard? Since 2006, I’ve decided to refuse straws whenever possible because of their environmental impact.
In the United States alone we use over 500 million straws a day, which is enough to fill 46,400 school buses every year. This is a disgusting amount of waste. Most of the excuses people use to explain why they use straws aren’t good enough reasons to me. Don’t like the ice sliding forward? Ask for your drink without ice. Trying to avoid teeth stains? Dentists say drinking from a straw won’t help that. Think it is germy to drink out of a cup someone else used? Please imagine the fork you’re using going a lot farther into the mouths of strangers than that glass ever did. If I trust the dishwasher to clean my fork well enough, I hope my glass is clean too. I don’t want to add to the amount of straws being used every day since the consequences last long after I leave the restaurant.
Of the trash found in oceans, 90 percent is plastic, and straws are the in the top 10 most common found plastic items during beach clean-ups. If you’ve seen the video of a sea turtle getting a straw pulled out of its nose that has gone viral lately, it may not come as a surprise to you that plastics floating in the ocean cause problems for numerous animals that live in and around the sea (44 percent of seabirds and 22 percent of whales, dolphins and porpoises have ingested plastic, in case you were wondering).
The Gyre Cleanup Campaign is just one of many sites to list the scary statistics that make me feel glad I avoid using straws. Gyre’s are areas of slow moving currents that create a somewhat whirlpool effect in five areas of the ocean. Due to this movement, a lot of long-lasting trash, such as plastic, collects at these parts of the ocean. The largest gyre is estimated to be two times larger than Texas. The site explains that there is “an estimated 11 million tons (and growing) of floating plastic covers an area of nearly 5 million square miles in the Pacific Ocean, 700 miles northeast of the Hawaiian Island chain and 1000 miles off the coast of California.” Since straws are so lightweight, they are easily swept up by the currents and deposited in these gyres. All of those straws won’t be disappearing anytime soon.
As the Choose to Be Straw Free Campaign website explains, “Straws are made of polypropylene – a petroleum bi-product, which is the same stuff that fuels our vehicles. Petroleum products are meant to last forever.” Just these statistics were enough to make me give up straws, especially the idea that I was drinking through a product used to run my car.
If that isn’t enough to make you start sipping from the cup instead of a straw consider one other unwanted effect of straws: wrinkles. Think of that person in your family who used to smoke all the time. Most likely, they have some wrinkle lines around their mouth, often nicknamed “smoker wrinkles,” that you would rather not develop. Those same wrinkles can come about from drinking out of straws, since drinking from a straw uses the same muscles as smoking. Beauty articles from Glamour, Marie Claire, the Huffington Post and AARP all acknowledge that repeatedly drinking from straws can cause deep wrinkles around your lips, sometimes at an early age.
As someone who does not want to see trash filled oceans, litter covered beaches, animals with bellies full of plastic or even easily avoided wrinkles on my face, saying no to straws was one change I have no problem making.