Last year, a video of a sea turtle with a plastic straw lodged in its nasal passage went viral. For eight minutes, marine biologists struggle (and eventually succeed) in removing a 10 centimeter plastic straw from the sea turtle’s nose. Although the video may be hard to watch as the turtle writhes in discomfort (and is likely in pain), it brings into stark relief the deleterious impact our seemingly trivial consumer choices have on other forms of life.
Starting in 2017, campaigns like Strawless in Seattle, For A Strawless Ocean, and #StopSucking spread in waves over social media. Thousands of users posted photos using friendly alternatives like bamboo, steel, and glass straws and many celebrities, including Adrien Grenier (of Lonely Whale), Russell Wilson, Ellen Pompeo, Amanda Seyfried, and Alicia Silverstone have taken to social media to spread the word.
This July, Seattle will ban single-use plastic straws after having removed 2.3 million plastic straws in its September 2017 campaign and more recently, there have been talks in the UK of banning not only plastic straws, but other one-use items that we tend to use and jettison without much thought.
Among these items, though, remains the plastic straw. Having gained much attention globally as a not-so-innocuous item, the plastic straw has become the symbol of a greater movement – one that The Surfrider Foundation’s Eastern Long Island Chapter has decided to spotlight with its Strawless Summer 2018 initiative.
The Eastern Long Island chapter began its process by reaching out to local restaurants and communicating the urgent need to address plastic use. Participating restaurants that agree to take part are required to: go completely strawless; provide biodegradable options such as bamboo and paper, but only upon request; or provide reusable alternatives such as glass or metal.
In return, the chapter will celebrate these restaurants that are pledging to make straws an “item of the past” by providing window decals that will make patrons aware of their participation, social media blasts, and inclusion in a press release later this summer. The restaurant will also be featured on a map on the foundation’s site, which marks the location of all participating eateries with a blue sea turtle.
“It’s just a matter of planting that seed within their minds to know that plastic straws aren’t exactly necessary anymore,” said Colleen Henn, Clean Water Coordinator at the Foundation’s Eastern Long Island Chapter.
“We were starting just by calling it Strawless Summer to kind of speak to the urgency and get restaurants switched over by the summer time,” she explained. “We’re envisioning kind of an endless strawless summer. All the restaurants we’ve spoken to plan to switch for good so that’s amazing.”
The straw is the simple first step that opens the door to thinking about what other small, easy changes can be made. Henn shared that some restaurants have already begun asking what they can do next.
“Surfider has a program called Ocean Friendly Restaurants and it is meant to be very inclusive and targets primarily plastics use,” she revealed. “We’re using Strawless Summer as more or less an easy way to appeal to restaurants and hopefully down the line we’ll be able to cultivate some kind of interest in the restaurant community to say, ‘we switched over from plastic straws, that was really easy. Let’s consider plastic utensils now.'”
Additionally, for those who may think a single plastic straw cannot have a measurable impact, there is an environmental impact that cannot be denied.
“Any time a piece of plastic is in the marine environment, it will break down into smaller pieces and won’t ever really dissolve,” said Henn, who has an education in environmental sciences and marine ecology. “It enters the food chain and that can affect the marine life that eat it, but also us – the ‘big fish’ who eat the ‘little fish.’ The chemicals accumulate in the living tissue of the fish, and then we eat that. What goes in the ocean goes in us.”
“What we’re trying to do is be able to provide people with different options and educate them that plastic isn’t necessary, reusable is better,” said Henn.
The Eastern Long Island Chapter is also working on creating a database of alternatives for restaurants to refer to, and currently lists some straw alternatives on its website. So far, over a dozen restaurants have pledged to be a part of Strawless Summer.
For the restaurants that haven’t pledged, Henn has some simple advice for how you can still make a difference when eating out: ask for no straw.
To celebrate this movement, the Surfrider Foundation’s Eastern Long Island Chapter is hosting a formal launch party to ring in the straw-free summer at Provisions Natural Foods and Cafe (7 Main Street, Sage Harbor) on Tuesday, May 1. From 6 to 8 p.m., there will be drinks and two screenings of Straws, an award-winning documentary narrated by Oscar-winning actor, Tim Robbins. The suggested donation for the film viewing is $5.
For more information about the Surfrider Foundation and the Eastern Long Island Chapter’s Strawless Summer campaign, please visit easternli.surfrider.org.