The Last Straw—Plastically Speaking
In the classic 1967 film, The Graduate, Mr. Maguire tells Benjamin Braddock, “There is a great future in plastics.” And he was both right and wrong. Plastic is everywhere, but like most invasive species, not without a cost.
Just ask the non-profit organization Plastic Free Delaware.
The hazards have moved beyond the “mere” six-pack rings strangling birds, choking dolphins, and clogging our storm water systems. The pervasive dumping of single-use plastic has actually altered our food system. A study by the National University of Ireland in Galway found plastic particles in nearly three-in-four deep sea fish.
This research, which looked at marine life in the Northwest Atlantic, reported one of the highest frequencies of so-called 'microplastics' in fish worldwide. Along with causing internal physical damage, inflammation of intestines, and reduced feeding in fish, the toxic particles can be passed up the food chain to humans.
Now, if we stop right here for a minute and take a poll, most people will be appalled and come down on the side of wanting to help the environment. If the poll then says, “Hey, we need volunteers,” the number drops off incredibly quickly.
But there is some really good news for you here. You can volunteer to help the environment by just saying no.
I know, that’s a throwback, 1987-ish turn of phrase. Only this time, it’s not about drugs. Although as we get older, ironically it actually does get a lot harder to just say no to pharmaceuticals. It does, however, get easier to just say no to plastic…well, unless it’s going in your knee or hip.
Okay, bad jokes aside, one of our beloved First State’s hard-working, all-volunteer, environmental organizations is Plastic Free Delaware. And their ask is pretty straight forward, “Please pass on the plastic.” So, let’s get into the why.…
As the Coastal Cleanup Chart shows, last year, in just one day, volunteers picked up 3.8 TONS OF WASTE. And of the waste tracked by Plastic Free Delaware, four of the top five classifications were from single-use plastic. Kind of shocking, isn’t it? And given what we now know about micro-plastics, this not only has health implications for our marine life, it has health implications for all of us.
On the bright side, 3.8 tons of waste is less than half the waste gathered only two short years ago. So—just saying no may be working.
Plastic bottle waste, down. Plastic bag waste, down.
And yet, STRAWS? Plastic straw waste is on the rise. Not a joke. The Ocean Conservancy ranks straws as the fifth (!) most-found litter item on beaches. Straws, a film narrated by Academy Award winner Tim Robbins, and directed by Linda Booker, claims that every day more than 500,000,000—yes, five hundred million—plastic straws are used once and tossed. And this is in the U.S. alone.
According to Dee Durham, co-founder of Plastic Free Delaware, “We’re not exactly sure how it happened, but over time restaurants got in the habit of placing a straw in basically all your beverages.”
And here’s where we come in.
Welcome to the Straws by Request policy.
As Dee explains, “At Plastic Free Delaware, we are trying to address the single-use plastic that has a short lifespan. So we are encouraging restaurants to first, only give out straws by request and second, consider switching from plastic to paper.”
Straws by Request really is simple. If someone doesn’t put a straw in your drink, and you would like one, don’t get annoyed. Just ask for one. If someone asks if you need a straw, consider foregoing one. And if you get a paper straw, think “Jackpot!”
Paper straws can be lots of fun. They come in all sorts of colors. You can even get ones that “flex.”
The number of local restaurants which have signed on is impressive. There’s Dogfish Head, which co-hosted a screening of the Straws documentary, where Plastic Free Delaware passed out reusable straws. The cosponsors (including the Center for the Inland Bays, Delaware Surfrider Foundation, Dogfish Head, Grain, MERR Institute, and Sierra Club Delaware Chapter) form an impressive list of organizations which care deeply for our region and its finest asset: the waters off our shoreline and all who inhabit them. A nice tidbit: Dogfish Head has even earned a certification from Surfrider as an Ocean Friendly Restaurant!
Other local restaurants making Straws by Request a part of their business include Michy’s, Egg, Big Chill Beach Club, Pickled Pig, Bethany Blues, Preshy’s, The Big Oyster, GreenMan Juice Bar, Dos Locos, and the 47 locations of the Greene Turtle Sports Bar & Grille across Delmarva.
It’s a list of places you can pop into and take a minute to say thank you for helping you become an environmental activist.
Many years ago, fitness guru Richard Simmons used to say—well, really, shriek—“You ate it, you lift it!” A lifting opportunity is coming up soon.
September 16, 2017, marked the 30th anniversary of Delaware Coastal Cleanup. 1,567 volunteers collected 3.8 tons of trash at 47 sites from Wilmington to Fenwick Island. Sponsored by the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC), the annual cleanup spans the First State’s 97-mile eastern coastline and includes our river and ocean shorelines as well as wetland and watershed areas.
In 2018, the Delaware Coastal Cleanup will be held on Saturday, September 15.
Walk a mile of our beaches, picking up literal tons of plastic trash. Not only will you think twice about that straw, you might even become an eco-warrior, remembering to take that cloth shopping bag out of your trunk and into the grocery store.
Find out more about Plastic Free Delaware.
Be a part of the Delaware Coastal Cleanup. ▼
Stefani Deoul is a television producer and author of the award-winning YA mystery On a LARP from Bywater Books. Contact Stefani. Data courtesy of Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.