Those little plastic straws that you get at virtually every restaurant in America have become a huge problem for the world's oceans and Starbucks is finally doing something about it. The global coffeehouse chain announced on Monday that it will immediately begin phasing out plastic drinking straws from its 28,000 stores worldwide and eliminate their availability almost completely by 2020. Given that the company uses around a billion straws every year, that could make a significant difference to the health of our seas.
Drinking straws are just part of a planet-wide plastic pollution problem. Humans generate around 35 million tons of plastic pollution annually and about a quarter of it -- 9 million tons -- ends up in the ocean, according to a 2015 University of Georgia study published in the journal, Science. Of that, about 2,000 tons (4 percent) is made up of discarded straws. But since these items weigh on average .42 grams (1/67 of an ounce), we're still dealing with billions of individual units. According to Australian scientists Denise Hardesty and Chris Wilcox, some 7.5 million straws litter America's shorelines alone. They estimate that as many as 8.3 billion straws can be found on the world's coastlines.
"For every pound of tuna we're taking out of the ocean, we're putting two pounds of plastic in the ocean," Sherry Lippiatt, California regional coordinator for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's marine debris program, told the AP.
Our polluting practices have wrought havoc on the marine ecosystem for years but a call for action went out in 2015 when Christine Figgener, a marine biologist at Texas A&M University, posted the following video of a sea turtle having a straw graphically removed from its nostril to YouTube. It's been viewed more than 30 million times since its posting and helped to coalesce public support for banning plastic straws.