Maryland Coastal Bays

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Stop the Straw - August 21, 2016

          When we think about it, we realize that plastic is everywhere. By noon today, many of us have already used a plastic toothbrush, written with a plastic pen, popped plastic earphones into our ears, and disposed of at least one piece of plastic food packaging. Plastic is becoming an inescapable part of our lives.

           In a resort town like Ocean City, Maryland, we come across plastic at a seemingly increased rate as we eat out or eat on the go. Disposable plastic utensils, cups, and dishware are evident, but sometimes, the tiniest offenders pass undetected under our radars. Take plastic straws for example.

          We use approximately 500 million straws per day in America - enough to circle the Earth twice. Straws are too small to be recycled in many jurisdictions, so lots of energy and resources are wasted in making an item designed for only one use. Use, toss, forget – but as our straws head toward the grave, it is hard to ignore the new suite of repercussions that arises.

          Straws are some of the most common types of trash found during beach cleanups all over the world, including in Ocean City. Any renegade straws that have escaped the trip to the landfill have an abbreviated journey to our bays' waters. A quick downpour or heavy winds can push the little plastic pieces to our beaches and bays. Everything leads to the sea, after all.

          When the straws reach the Bays and the Atlantic Ocean, wildlife can mistakenly ingest the straws. This harms the animal, further endangering an entire ecological community. Endangered sea turtles have been found with straws accidently stuck up their noses, causing unnecessary pain and suffering. Plastic can also break apart into microscopic particles known as microplastics. Chemicals in the plastic are also proving to be an issue. Plastics absorb chemicals like P.C.B. and D.D.T and concentrate these chemicals. As animals eat these plastics, the chemicals and toxins enter the food web. These chemicals and toxins bioaccumulate or build up in fatty tissues of marine animals, especially those at the top of the food web. As we eat these animals, the chemicals could potentially be building up in humans as well.

            But it’s not just wildlife that is at risk: emerging studies show that the plastic in our straws is also a human health hazard. Many of our straws are comprised of a plastic called polypropylene – a material that was deemed safe for years by health watchdogs. It wasn’t until just recently that laboratories noted an unknown set of chemicals leaching from polypropylene under thermal stress. These chemicals are uncannily similar to the notorious bisphenol-A (BPA), a substance banned from baby bottles for its health risks. BPA is not in our straws, yet polypropylene still is, posing the risk of chemical migration from straw to food to tissue.

           We have already interjected plastics into our surroundings; now, we are letting them creep into our biology. So let’s start kicking unnecessary plastic out of our lives for good.

           The Stop the Straw campaign aims to make this small change for the good of our environment and our health. The campaign empowers consumers to make a difference while doing something as enjoyable as eating out.

           Want to help? Stop the Straw goes like this:

           Next time you visit one of Ocean City’s 200+ restaurants, consider asking your server to bring your beverage sans straw, and encourage friends to do the same. If you would prefer to use a straw, consider the alternatives - paper straws, glass straws, bamboo straws, and even hollow pasta. Be creative!

           Another way to fight pollution in Ocean City is the Adopt Your Street program, a community cleanup initiative. Please visit www.mdcoastalbays.org for more info on both this campaign and Stop the Straw.

           A single straw may seem like a small concern, but a surplus of forgotten straws can cause a world of difference. Similarly – and in a much more positive fashion – our collective decisions can make a tremendous impact. The more straws we decline, the more vitality we can return to the waters we love.

           Healthy ecosystems and healthy people are everyone’s cup of tea - without the straw, of course.

 

Bingaman is the Environmental Intern for the Maryland Coastal Bays Program and an Environmental Science and Policy major at the University of Maryland.

 



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