By Andrea Alban-Davies, Rye Garden Club Conservation Committee
For people who care deeply about the natural world that we’ll hand to our children, it can be disheartening to read the news. As we blow through one never-before-breached environmental threshold after another, it feels like every meaningful option at the individual level is so difficult… drastically reduce airline travel, change how and what we eat, downsize our homes, adopt alternative energy options, or stop using our cars as our primary mode of transportation. These are not easy to adopt and may take time, careful thought, sometimes money, and always an unwavering, deep commitment to incorporate into our lives. So, it’s really nice when someone brings to our attention a very simple, immediate, and free way that we can make a big difference. (If we never even knew it was a problem, well then so much the better!)
That is exactly what The Green Screen Film Series here in Rye accomplished with its latest screening: “Straws”, a short documentary about the monumental pollution, particularly of our oceans, wrought by the seemingly innocuous plastic straw served that with so many of our drinks today. (For those that don’t know, Green Screen was launched by the Rye Sustainability Committee, in partnership with Rye Country Day School, to screen educational documentaries concerning environmental and sustainability issues.)
In thirty-two minutes, “Straws” informs us not only of the history of straws and our current usage rates, but also shares startling images of where single-use plastic can often end up in oceans. (There are also billions upon billions reaching our landfills and incinerators.) One particularly troubling scene made use of a video – taken by marine scientists – showing the extraction of a straw lodged deeply in the nose of a sea turtle that they found. I don’t consider myself squeamish, but no words of mine can possibly communicate the visceral reaction elicited by that short clip. Suffice it to say, I signed a pledge shortly thereafter to order my drinks without plastic straws forever going forward.
How many plastic straws do we use daily in the U.S.? Estimates put the number at approximately 500 MILLION! That’s 1.6 plastic straws per person per day; enough plastic straws to wrap around the earth’s circumference 2.5 times, daily. The documentary helps put it into even starker perspective: between the ages of 5 and 65, one person in our country uses approximately 35,000 plastic straws. What becomes of all of those plastic straws? Well, one thing that we know for sure is that they aren’t recycled. At the screening, we learned that they aren’t labeled with recycling numbers, so it’s not possible to identify what type of plastic they are. In addition, they are too small for the sorters used at most recycling facilities, and so only end up jamming the machines and ruining entire batches of recycling.
As I heard more and more statistics – like the fact that plastic straws are consistently in the top ten items found at beach clean-ups (if not in the top five), or that on the International Coastal Clean-Up Day Rye Country Day students collected 54 plastic straws in one hour on the tiny Edith Read Wildlife Sanctuary beach – I found myself asking: How could we so radically misunderstand the cost-reward equation when it comes to using these plastic items of habit? Do we really need them? Even if we like them, is it worth the pollution they continually generate? Is it worth the toll on marine life? One boy volunteering on plastic straw reduction efforts put it better than I ever could. When asked what problem the invention of the straw solved, he thought for a minute and said, “I guess the problem of having to… lift the cup to your face?”
Earth doesn’t belong to us; we are just the custodians charged with caring for it during our lifetimes. It’s our job to – at a minimum – pass it forward in no worse condition than we received it. Eliminating non-essential single-use plastic is an easy step for all of us to take, and a necessary one.
<Visit www.ryesustainabilitycommittee.com for more information on how the Committee seeks to address the issue of plastic straws in our community.>