Bay Area environmentalists are declaring war on the lowly plastic straw. Americans use an incredible 500 million plastic straws every day. Even though they are small, straws can create serious environmental problems, so now a growing number of activists say it's time to just say no.
A big factor in the growing campaign to eliminate plastic straws has been a viral video of a sea turtle with a straw stuck in his nose.
The video shows researchers, who found the turtle in Costa Rica, removing the straw. The turtle survived and was released back into the wild. The video got millions of internet views, and the impact has been huge, turning grass roots campaigns against plastic straws into a global movement.
VIDEO: Sea turtle with straw up its nostril
One of those grass roots groups is The Last Plastic Straw in Santa Cruz. It was started by Jackie Nunez who has been talking about plastic straws like "the crazy straw lady" for years.
Nunez said the turtle video blew up her campaign, with an avalanche of interest. It has been a game changer in the fight against plastic pollution. "That plastic straw will last maybe moments in your drink or in your hand, but it's going to outlive you and generations to come," Nunez said.
That is also the message of a new documentary called "Straws" that debuted at the Sonoma Film Festival and is getting a strong reception at other film festivals around the country. The producer and director, Linda Booker, said straws are a great starting point for a look at the environmental consequences of plastic. "We are talking about billions and billions of non-recyclable plastic straws that are ending up garbage cans, landfills, and unfortunately too often as street litter," she said.
Many straws also end up in the ocean and on the beach. According to the California Coastal Commission, straws are the sixth most common trash item found on our state's beaches since 1989.
Bay Area campaigns are trying to get restaurants to eliminate plastic straws and are moving into high gear. Eva Holman with Surfrider Foundation's San Francisco chapter is helping lead the charge. "Out of all the plastic we find on the beach, it is the one thing that is really easy to get rid of. Getting rid of plastic straws is not going to hinder your lifestyle whatsoever," according to Holman.
Environmental groups want restaurants to provide straws only if customers request them, and to only use paper, not plastic straws.
Olitas Cantina on the Santa Cruz wharf was an early adopter, switching to heavy duty paper straws designed to last longer.
Longtime Olitas customer Walter Raidor thought the paper straws seemed kind of weird at first, but now he likes them better than plastic. He said they can last through multiple drinks without getting soggy.
Paper straws do cost more than plastic, but Olitas' owner Steve Elb said the restaurant is using a lot fewer straws since many customers don't ever ask for them.
In San Francisco, using paper straws can actually save bars and restaurants a lot of money. The Pagan Idol bar just made the switch from plastic to paper and is saving $600 a month. That's because using paper straws instead of plastic means more of the bar's waste gets composted rather than sent to the landfill and that's a lot cheaper.
Activists also urge all restaurant customers to tell servers they don't need a straw. And are encouraging people to bring their own straw, if they need one.
You can now buy a huge variety of reusable straws made of glass, metal or bamboo. Many come with tiny brushes to help keep them clean.
Click here for more information on the Surfrider "Plastic Straws Suck" campaign.
Click here for information on the Last Plastic Straw campaign.
Click here to watch the "Straws" documentary.
Click here for more information on Aardvark Straws/Maker of heavy duty, long lasting paper straws.
Written and Produced by Jennifer Olney.