Seattle battles plastic straws to save the oceans

Activist group in US city finds unique way to encourage recycling and avoid use of single-use plastic straws.

An activist group in the US city of Seattle is trying to change people’s habits, one plastic straw at a time.

Lonely Whale Foundation began its Strawless in Seattle campaign in September as a way of encouraging others to think about the impact plastic items they use each day can have on the environment.

“In the United States we use 500 million single-use plastic straws every day,” Dune Ives, executive director of Lonely Whale, told Al Jazeera.

“Zero per cent of them are recyclable. Those that find their way into the marine environment break down intro microplastics and when a marine animal eats plastic they have a 50 percent mortality rate.”

Worldwide, people are using one billion plastic straws each day, contributing to the 12 million tonnes of plastic waste that ends up in oceans and rivers every year.

If consumption of single-use plastic items continues at its current rate, scientists predict that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.

#stopsucking campaign

Co-founded by actor Adrian Grenier and producer Lucy Sumner, Lonely Whale has secured a raft of figures from the entertainment industry to support its campaigns.

It also works with local NGOs, businesses and policymakers to encourage people to switch to straws made from different materials such as glass, steel and bamboo, or to pledge to give up using straws completely as part of their #stopsucking campaign.


Speaking to Al Jazeera, Becca Fong, a spokesperson for Seattle Public Utilities, said: “The bigger thing is getting people to stop and think ‘Do I really need this? I’m going use it for five to 10 minutes and then I’m going to throw it away and it’s going to go to a landfill’.

“So that’s really the bigger issue: having people raise it in their consciousness.”

From July 2018, Seattle will ban disposable plastic straws and cutlery from restaurants and cafes, but the city has already removed more than 2.3 million plastic straws since September.

“Seattle began restricting plastic waste a decade ago, starting with a ban on styrofoam takeaway food containers and disposable plastic bags,” Al Jazeera’s Rob Reynolds, reporting from Seattle, said.

Lonely Whale now plans to take the initiative beyond Seattle: a vote is open to choose which 10 cities the campaign should expand to in 2018.

The options are based on places Lonely Whale either believe the campaign could have most impact and include London, Hong Kong and Berlin as well as a number of US cities.

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