The Last Straw
- story by Ellis Anderson
Sometimes ideas in Bay St. Louis hitch a ride on the submerged collective consciousness, and start popping up all over town.
The Last Straw concept, for instance. One day when my husband and I were ordering lunch at a local restaurant, Larry told the server that he didn't want a straw with his tea. The waitress looked at him in surprise and I did too. When she left the table, I asked why.
“I was just doodling around with some numbers after our last lunch out,” he said. “I figured out that if only a third of Americans use one straw a day, and you lined them all up, in 19 days you could reach the moon.”
“No, I’m serious,” he said. “Why do we even need drinking straws? Use it a few minutes and it’s in a landfill forever. What a waste. I’m going to start refusing to take them.”
I’d never even given a thought to drinking straws before.
“Did you see something about straws on the Internet?” I asked. He hadn’t. The thought had just occurred to him, unbidden. But it turns out the idea was percolating all over town.
A few weeks later, we were having lunch with Carole McKellar and her husband, John. They politely refused straws when their drinks arrived. Carole told me that she was part of an informal group that had recently come together. The friends hope to bring awareness about the long-term damage caused by “one use” plastics and they’re starting with the low-hanging fruit: drinking straws.
“One use” means we use an item one time and then toss it in the trash. Drinking straws are one-use-wonders, because while Larry’s calculations are correct, he started with a lowball number. It turns out that Americans actually use 500 million straws a day. Enough to wrap our planet two and a half times. That’s just in this country.
She first became aware of the problem years ago, when she traveled to Vietnam and was shocked by the amount of waste that had accumulated on some of the smaller islands. Scuba-diving off the coast, she saw more plastic bags than fish.
Later, Ann committed to living an entire year plastic-free. She found her goal impossible. Even many grocery store vegetables come wrapped in plastic. She lowered her standards and now tries to use every piece of plastic that comes into her house at least three times before throwing it away. For example, her dogs’ meals are often served on Styrofoam meat trays instead of in regular bowls (Ann says they don’t notice).
‘The problem with plastic is that it’s much less expensive to make new plastic than it is to recycle plastic.
“Once it’s made, it’s really hard to unmake it,” says Ann. “And it never just dissolves, it just breaks down into smaller and smaller bits.”
Those bits are eaten by fish and wildlife, working their way into our ecosystem. It’s estimated that over two-thirds of all fish in the ocean have plastic in their bodies.
The women want to get the word out about Ocean Conservancy’s Last Straw Challenge. Individuals sign a simple online statement committing to asking their server to “skip the straw” when they’re out to eat.
The group is looking into other ways Bay-Waveland residents can work to save our fantastic coastal “backyard.” You can help by taking this simple online survey!
“The No Straw challenge is an easy thing I can do,” says Ann. “I don’t even have to get on my preacher horse. I just tell the server ‘thank you, I don’t need a straw,’ and if someone asks me why, I tell them.”