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As a former waitress, the amount of straws that I had to throw away was absolutely ridiculous. It was often because there was a slight tear in the paper wrapping around it, or because it was bent a certain way. Even worse were the people who ordered six different drinks and needed—yes, needed—a straw for each individual cup.

I would find myself counting out the individual straws just to remember how many]. “Okay sir, here you go…straw for your chocolate milk, apple juice, water and kid’s cup.” This was quickly followed with a “Thank you….can I get another just in case?”

Much to my pleasure, eliminating plastic straws has grown to become the silent movement of 2018 and 2019. But more importantly, there are more and more dissenters of plastic straw alternatives who don’t think it makes a difference. I have to disagree.

Plastic straws are in the top 10 list of items found on the beach during clean-ups. A Science Advances study done earlier this year found that there were almost 8.3 billion plastic straws polluting the world’s beaches.

I have heard the argument that reducing use of such a small portion of plastic products is completely useless, and that instead we should target big plastic producers around the world because they create the most waste.

This is partly true. Big plastic producers are the main cause of plastic waste, but individuals who use this argument are neglecting to realize the value of supply and demand.

If you, as a consumer, go out to a restaurant and use even one straw, you are contributing to the decrease of straws in the restaurant’s stock. How many people come into a restaurant on any given week? Depending on the place, it could be several hundreds. That’s hundreds of straws that were used, and tens of boxes that were gone in just one week.

The restaurant has to keep buying boxes from somewhere and that’s where huge plastic product businesses make their money. That’s why it’s so important and meaningful when restaurants and large chains like Starbucks around the country opt for plastic straw alternatives. Can we really expect big manufacturers to stop making money and producing product on their own?

When recycling came into the public eye 50 years ago nobody could have guessed that the movement would generate as much momentum as it has in recent years. Popular opinion shifts with time, and the most important thing about any conservation movement is that, yes, every little thing matters. To you, you’re just one person, but in the bigger picture, you’re a key element to the cycle.

The average consumer as just one person may not be able to change the minds of huge businesses, but they can certainly stop using plastic straws. With more scientists finding microplastics in the bellies of dead marine life such as sea turtles and fish, a small thing like choosing to use a paper straw is the least we can do.

If you don’t like paper straws, I understand. They can get soft and mushy and break down easily. But there are alternatives.

There are bamboo straws, wheat stalk straws, reusable metal straws and straws made of straw. The most cost-effective alternative is to invest in metal straws as opposed to buying bags and bags of biodegradable ones. Compostable plastic straws, while able to decompose in compost facilities, are just as dangerous to the environment as regular plastic straws when in the ocean.

Or, if you don’t have physical limitations such as multiple sclerosis , you could not use straws at all.

If you’re set in your ways, here are some ideas to start:

  • Only use one straw for all of your drinks when you go out to eat
  • When you get a refill, ask to keep your straw
  • If the server brings out a refill, just transfer the straw to the other cup
  • If you’re drinking water and you move to another drink, you can reuse the straw from the water.

With all of the changes happening to the environment and ecosystem around the world, it’s easy to feel helpless. Being able to make a tangible difference and encourage businesses to make a greater change based on consumer habits is a win and all we have to do is #StopSucking.

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