Do yourself a favour and Google search the YouTube video Straw in Turtle's Nose.
The video was filmed by Christine Figgener, a marine biologist at Texas A&M University, in 2015. The footage, and many others like it, is a stark reminder of the detrimental effects plastic pollution is having on our oceans.
Consumers are starting to realise, albeit slowly, that in order for the earth to survive, we need to be moving towards a plastic-free world.
Still not convinced? These are the facts: A plastic bottle takes up to 700 years to break down to micro plastics; a plastic bag can take up to 1 000 years; straws take 200 years to break down.
There are no conclusive stats for SA, but the consumption of straws is growing at an alarming rate.
And now it appears that being eco-conscious is the sexy thing to do as celebrities like Khloe Kardashian join the no-straws movement.
She's even come up with the perfect hack - pasta straws.
The reality TV star and Good American designer took to her Instagram stories and posted her tip: “I don't use plastic straws anymore after Kourtney educated me on them. I found these pasta straws, which are awesome. And I also have straws that look just like plastic, but they're made out of corn.”
One business leading the pack is online store Faithful to Nature. Founded by Robyn Smith, the virtual store only stocks products that are ethically sourced, natural and organic. These include their plastic-free straw alternatives made from bamboo, glass, stainless steel and copper.
Community manager Mischke Bosse explains Faithful to Nature's thinking behind doing away with plastic. “There are an array of effects that straws have on the environment, from production - as plastic is made by drilling oil - to the fact that a single straw will take over 200 years to even start breaking down,” she says.
She then notes that plastic never really disappears, “but simply breaks down into smaller and smaller bits of plastic” until it eventually becomes micro-plastic.
The bottom line is if it can't be recycled, don't use it.
“Most mass-produced plastic straws have a resin code of #5, which is not currently recyclable in South Africa,” notes Bosse.
So in effect, the life cycle of a plastic straw is a continuous circle of never-ending trash, literally.
“Straws sent to landfills, unfortunately often don't even make it there, as they are so small and often fall from trucks or are blown off landfill sites, etc,” she warns.
The result is them ending up in the ocean or in sewers and rivers, ultimately leading to the ocean where they are consumed by marine life, and more often leading to their death.
Janneka Blake is a member of the Zero Waste movement, and the owner of Shop Zero - a Cape Town start-up that offers green options for earth-conscious customers.
Like Faithful to Nature, the shop stocks alternatives such as bamboo, glass, copper and stainless steel.
Because of her waste-free lifestyle, Blake doesn't advocate the use of plastic straws at all, saying that she bought her own stainless steel straws before she started her business and carries them in her bag.
“If I happen to forget them at home, I'll simply refuse the straw and ask for no straw when I order my drink.”
She advises that the best thing restaurants can do is not offer straws at all because of PLA plant-based “bioplastic”, saying many restaurants are opting for these now.
“The question is: Do they actually compost these ‘biodegradable’ straws at their restaurant? Or do they send it to a landfill along with the rest of their trash?”
She goes on to explain that PLA packaging needs to be sent to a commercial composting facility or customers need to take it home to compost in their own compost heaps.
Mindsets need to change. It comes down to simple convenience ruling over protecting the environment. Blake sums it up perfectly: “We have lips after all. We don't really need straws.”
Shop plastic-free straws:
- Nationally: www.faithful-to-nature.co.za
- Cape Town: shopzero.co.za
- Johannesburg: www.forevastraws.co.za/
- Durban: thegreenstrawcompany.co.za