By: Mary Beth Flemming

February 3 was international straw free day! Restaurants all around the country are pledging to get rid of plastic straws.

Have you heard about the largest floating island of garbage to date, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, resting off the coast of California? According to the Inland Ocean Coalition, 80% of the garbage in these islands originates inland. The Coalition, a project of the Ocean Foundation, has estimated the garbage island’s current size to be larger than the landmass of the United States. The amount of plastic floating in this garbage patch outnumbers sea life 6 to 1. One of the largest inland plastic contributors to the garbage island is a plastic product designed for single use, the straw.

What does the buildup of plastics in our oceans mean for those of us living here in Chaffee County? Environmental organizations such as Earth Share have calculated that Americans use nearly 500 million straws every day, that’s enough to encircle the earth 2.5 times! Kids love them and many adults prefer them, but what is the impact of such convenience? All that waste has to go somewhere.

Is it possible for the Upper Arkansas Valley to help mitigate this problem?

Straws are a petroleum-based product that never truly biodegrade or go away; they are one of the top ten items picked up at clean-up events, because they are easily lost at disposal centers and light enough to blow around.  This is problematic for both wildlife and people. Marine wildlife think that straws are food and ingest the plastic, and humans then consume plastic filled fish. The Costa Rican Sea Turtle Association posted a viral video of a sea turtle that got a straw stuck up its nose.

Straw campaigns across the globe are sculpting the way for decreased consumption of plastic straws and even the complete banishment of their use both for inland and ocean communities.  According to EarthShare, Seattle became the first major city in the United States to ban plastic straw use completely in September of 2017. Places like Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom already ban straws, as do all concession areas at the Smithsonian Institution Museums. Manhattan Beach outside of Los Angeles bans straws and all other disposable plastics. A June, 2017 article in The Washington Post notes that as of summer, 2017, the Plastic Pollution Coalition estimates “1,800 restaurants, organizations, institutions and schools worldwide have gotten rid of plastic straws or implemented a serve-straws-upon-request policy.”

Thousands of people are joining the movement, even youth. Nine-year-old Molly Steer started the Straw No More project, with the goal of eliminating plastic straw use in local schools in Cairns, Australia. Her efforts inspired schools in South Korea, New Zealand, England and America to take the pledge. In her Tedx Talk on October 6, 2017, she described successfully encouraging 10,000 kids who have agreed to stop using plastic straws in their drinks at school.

There are few opposing arguments to eliminating straws but they include: restaurant cups are dirty, drinks are too cold, and people with certain disabilities may require the use of straws. The good news is that many manufacturing companies have stepped up with products such as glass straw and paper straws. The Mixing Bowl, in Salida, sells stainless steel straws. An organization called claims to be tackling the global plastic problem, “one bamboo straw at a time” by appointing one hundred percent of their bamboo straw sale proceeds to the education and outreach about the impacts of single-use plastic.

So what do you think Upper Arkansas Valley? Should we Suck the Straws Out? Although we are somewhat removed from the world’s oceans, the Arkansas River is a watershed that flows to the ocean. We are just as responsible for what flows into our waters as communities residing near the ocean. Will we join the worldwide straw-free movement? Our local choices effect others globally, and the choice to reduce single-use plastic consumption starts with the individual.

Example of a “No Straws” poster in a window in Boulder, CO.

Throughout March and April, GARNA will be partnering with the Sellars Project Space Partnership for Community Action (PfCA) to show the film Straws on the following dates:

Monday, March 19 beginning at 6:30 pm at the Salida SteamPlant Theater – FREE and open to all

For teens only! Thursday, March 22, 6:00 to 9:00 pm at Season’s Cafe in Salida; youth-driven straws reduction campaign – thanks to Chaffee County Youth Alliance for their support of this initiative!

What do you think about straws?

Do you think the Upper Arkansas Valley should be concerned about straw usage?

Please comment below.