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How the Perils of Single-Use Plastics Inspired a Movement

Photos: Courtesy of David Royal

Every day, the United States consumes 500 million plastic straws. That’s enough to wrap around the Earth’s circumference two and a half times. It’s also one of the reasons more and more restaurants and bars from London to Los Angeles are adopting a new service model. Perhaps you’ve seen the signs saying, “straws served upon request.” It’s all part of a larger movement that began in 2011 with a single glass of water.

 An eye-opening experience

Jackie Nunez is a self-described “slacktivist” who always had an affinity for the great outdoors. Though she had worked over the years as a kayak guide, a river guide and landscaper, she never really thought too much about plastic alternatives and sustainability. But after an eye-opening trip to the Caribbean, where she saw plastic pollution everywhere, she was back home at a seaside bar in Santa Cruz, California, when she asked for a glass of water. It arrived with an unnecessary plastic straw, and the lightbulb went on.

 For Nunez it was an awakening about the implications of single-use plastics. “The fact that we’re using plastic to make something that lasts as long as one drink but will outlive you for generations in our environment is a problem,” she says. “It really does come down to wants and needs, and this disposable culture of ours.”

Taking charge

Soon, Nunez was volunteering for beach cleanups, but she wanted to do more. She began by visiting local restaurants to suggest they follow the “straws upon request” model, and she dove into researching and educating herself about plastic pollution. A friend who was taking a course in web design at a local college offered to build a website, and ThelastPlasticStraw.org was born.

 Nunez stresses that she is not trying to implement a ban on straws. “It’s not really the item, it’s the material that’s the problem,” she says. “And for some people there is a function. There are people with disabilities that need the straw to drink.” She has no desire to alienate those who may need, or simply like using straws. The goal is simply to empower people with information and raise awareness of single-use plastics. That includes everything from plastic utensils to those “tooth-picky things with the floss on the end.”

According to Nunez’ website, 80-90 percent of marine debris found in the ocean is made of plastic. And “there is nothing is nothing in nature that can biodegrade plastic. Even if incinerated, we are breathing the toxic dioxins released into the air and eating them as they settle into our crops and get bioaccumulated into animals and humans.”

Michael Flocker, [email protected]

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