What a turtle taught us

An endangered sea turtle took the conversation of single use plastic straws viral, and to the headlines a couple of weeks ago. Maybe you saw it? Maybe you couldn´t bear to?

In this post I´m going to talk about single use plastic straws. Why they suck, and looking at  amazing examples of simple solutions.

One from a bar in Bristol, the other, from children.


It took a team of Marine Biologist led by Christine Figgener in Costa Rica a pain staking ten minutes to pull the straw out of this endangered olive ridley sea turtles nostril. Thankfully, they filmed and shared the awful experience so many of us can learn by it. If you didn´t see it this is the short version.  (For this turtle there is a happy ending.)

“Plastico!” exclaims one scientist. “Don´t fucking tell me it´s a fricking straw?” Replies the other.

That´s exactly what it was. A 10cm single use plastic drinking straw.  Used one time, to drink one drink from…

I personally tried to ignore it too in my news feed, I was one of those that couldn´t bare to look. That was until my house mate sent it to me directly, with the message,

“I saw this little video a couple of days ago and it made me very sad “

My housemate sent it to me as it upset her. Which is good.  That may sound awful, but what it´s happening to millions of animals out in the oceans (& not just the oceans, birds, cows, camels they´re all suffering)  IS upsetting.

People need to see for themselves, to be upset to make a change.  I never would have, had I not seen equally haunting images that made me sit up and look around. We see haunting images all the time, but the ones I saw that day struck a chord. Why? I don´t know. Maybe because I could see the exact products causing so much harm all around me, a lot of which I didn´t actually need.

Stopping the use of straws isn´t a big change. Let´s face it, not sucking from a straw ain´t gunna kill us!

Plastic free in India“I won´t be using them anymore.”  My house mate said.

Another wrote;  “Poor little mite 😦  looks awful. OK no more straws.”

Even if turtles aren´t your thing, they eat jelly fish. If the endangered turtles go on to become extinct, what will happen to the jelly fish?  Will there numbers explode? Will swimming in the sea be a thing of the past? I hope I never find out…

Refusing straws, like refusing other SUPs (single use plastics) can feel futile. It´s just one straw, what difference can it make?  This is a brilliant example of how one straw can make a difference, to the wildlife ingesting it.

Straws add up. We only need to look around us in any bar or restaurant to see how their usage is out of control.

  • All these straws are manufactured, in Asia probably.
  • Packed in plastic bags.
  • Shipped across the world on huge container ships. I saw Big Blue Live a few of weeks ago. The number of container ships is rising, so is lethal collisions with Blue Whales who do not have defense systems. For millions of years these gentle giants were the biggest creatures in the oceans and have never had to defend themselves against predators.
  • Driven around the country to their destinations.
  • Where they are used for a matter of moments before they enter the waste stream.
  • They go in another plastic bag, a bin bag.
  • Where again they´re transported to the magic place called “away”…

That´s a lot of effort and pollution, not just plastic pollution, simple so we don´t drink out a glass!

Recently Nat & I were having a  meeting at The Canteen for the PALL feature we´re making for Made in Bristol TV.   Nat went and got us tea and cake, and sat back down, “Go and look at their sign!”

“Just say NO to straws. We won´t give you one unless you ask.”

It´s bold. It´s brave. There´s no messin´!  Be tricky to ask for a straw after seeing this on the wall.

And as Bristol is European Green Capital…

Bristol, do you really need one?

So, I thought it fitting to include The Canteen for the PALL feature. Nat interviewed Jamie and found out, by not giving out straws willy nilly, The Canteen are refusing to give out around 120,000 per year. Yep, that´s a lot of zeros!  120,000 per year!!

More or less that´s 350 a day. Which, when you look around that´s easy numbers for a bar to dish out.  The Canteen have been awarded Sustainable Restaurant Associations highest rating of three stars for their commitment to local and ethical suppliers and for their care of people and planet. Which, includes reducing waste. Which includes reducing single use plastic straws.

(The Canteen are provider for the people of Hamilton House and beyond, based on Stokes Croft in Bristol, UK)

The interview aired on Thursday 24th September, you can watch it on Made in Bristol TV catch up Here

Nat & JamieNaturally, a bar refusing to give out straws is going to add up more than an individual refusing them. (unless you can put serious amounts of drink away!)  but individuals refusing straws do add up, as well as sending a message out that we don´t want them, that we can manage, and are happy to drink without them.

“So, who does ask for a straw?”  Nat asked. “Children.” At which point, from behind the camera, my ears twitched. Children. I personally know of a few children who refuse straws. A couple of boys in Portugal and another friend´s daughter who I saw a few weeks ago. Seven year old Scarlett was busting to tell me how she´s refused straws the day before at the pub, for her and her friends. She was proud, and so she should be.

That´s because Scarlett´s educated about single use plastics (I lived with her for 5 months and taught at her school…)  and her natural instinct is to protect animals, which for her, among other things, is refusing straws.  Scarlett´s not the only one, kids love animals. If more children knew where their single use plastic straws can end up, I´d bet we´d hear the echos of “no straw!” ringing around restaurants.

Take Milo, an exceptional example of what a driven 9-year-old has achieved. Thanks to a  Facebook follower, I checked out his site Choose to be Straw Free

Milo Cress is a boy from Canada, who wanted to reduce and possibly eliminate the use of plastic disposable straws in restaurants. So in 2011, at the age of 9, he founded the Be Straw-Free project, which focuses on building awareness about plastic waste and its impact on the environment. Since then, Milo has visited local and international cities around the world, urging restaurant owners to adopt his “Offer First” policy, where straws would be offered first rather than being included automatically with served beverages.

This is a 9-year-old (well – was!) lad. Inspiring stuff indeed. This is him talking…

Milo´s busy, he´s all over it!  He´s been all over the media and magazine. Jetting off to Australia to talk there, universities, meeting congressmen, his list is endless. Two of my personal favorites achievements of Milo´s have to be:

April 2013: Milo returns from first leg of International Speaking Tour to Australia where he spoke at schools and events in Australia. The Mayor of Manly officially declared Offer First a best practice city-wide!

Earth Day 2013: Milo partners with Xanterra to launch Be Straw Free at all their National Park properties.

Incredible. What an inspiration Milo is.

Some people can not fathom the thought of drinking without a straw. If you´re one of them, why not get yourself a nice glass or stainless steel one.

If you´ve read this far, then I have your straw attention…!  This turtles plight can be one to make positive changes, small changes that add up. One tip, is to refuse TWICE. Once when you order, and again when they go off to get your drink. Bartenders and waiters are on straw auto-pilot, so saying it twice helps it stick.

Together, we can turn the tide on pointless single use plastic straws.

Remember, every refusal adds up!


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