Clean water is the livelihood of the Hampton Roads community. Every year, millions of tourists flock to the area to wade in the ocean, paddle board through watersheds, and cast a line, hoping to catch a fish. Yet one of the biggest threats to this comes covered in a small, paper wrapper — the disposable plastic straw.
Single-use plastic recently has come under attack. Discarded plastic straws pollute waterways, but they are especially under scrutiny due to their shape. Straws are easily lodged into marine life’s noses and throats, leading to breathing problems. A video of a sea turtle with a straw in its nose, taken by a research team from Texas A&M University in Costa Rica in 2015, has nearly 32 million views.
Straw bans are popping up in cities and businesses. Seattle banned plastic straws. Similar legislation was proposed in New York City, San Francisco and Portland. No bans have been proposed in the Hampton Roads area.
Starbucks announced it is ditching its green straws by 2020. McDonald’s, Marriott and Bacardi followed suit, pledging to reduce or ban plastic straw use. Locally, Taste Unlimited, Three Ships Coffee Roasters and Commune have switched to eco-friendly straws.
“One of the things that helps is when you sit down and order a drink, ask for no straws,” said Christina Trapani, founder of Beachy Clean VB. Beachy Clean VB is pushing restaurants to ditch plastic straws and advocating for other environmental issues, such as water conservation at hotels and making sure seafood is sustainably harvested.
“When you request no straw with your drink, it reminds business owners that some people do not want straws in their drinks,” Trapani said.
For many, straws are not always necessary, but people have become accustomed to having them.
“It’s easy to cut something out that is not essential,” said Sedonia Triepel, a 16-year-old Virginia Beach teen who gave up straws.
There are several eco-friendly alternatives to single-use plastic, including paper, metal and bamboo, or even sipping straight from a cup.
“Our culture is so used to using single-use plastic,” said Christian Kerlick, a 15-year-old junior at Salem High School who said he has been limiting his use of straws. “It’s weird to watch everyone go around using plastic straws when you know the harm they cause.”
But for some, plastic straws are essential. The no-straw movement has come under heat for hurting the lives of people with disabilities. Straws give many disabled people freedom when consuming beverages. The flexibility of plastic straws are essential to people with muscular diseases or limited movement. “Other types of straws simply do not offer the combination of strength, flexibility, and safety that plastic straws do,” Disability Rights Washington, a Seattle nonprofit organization, wrote in an open letter.
For those who still wish to tackle the single-use plastic problem, Trapani said, “It's not gonna happen overnight, so if it's an issue that you want to take on, then grab your own reusable straw.”