Used for convenience and provided free-of-charge, Americans use an estimated 500 million straws a day—the same weight as 1,000 cars, which is close to 3 million pounds. Straws, which are made of a petroleum byproduct called polypropylene mixed with colorants and plasticizers, do not biodegrade naturally in the environment. They are also nearly impossible to recycle. Because most straw-users trash their plastic straws when done, that means every straw ever used most likely still exists on this planet, although they may have broken down into smaller pieces of plastic.
At one of Shedd Aquarium’s local beach clean-ups in Chicago, volunteers collected 75 plastic straws and stirrer sticks. At another local beach clean-up, volunteers collected 414 straws and stirrers. These statistics from single-day clean-ups at specific beaches in Chicago demonstrate how many plastic straws are being left behind here in Chicago, polluting Lake Michigan and the Chicago River.
When plastic items like straws find their way into ecosystems, the animals that live in them are at risk. Animals such as fish, seals, sea lions, otters, birds and whales are harmed by plastics when they become entangled. Additionally, many animals mistake plastic trash for food, nibbling on it or ingesting it entirely. When ingested, animals can die from a lack of nutrition, despite a full stomach. This is true for seabirds and for the fish in the Great Lakes.
As an advocate for wildlife, Shedd Aquarium has declared that Earth Day is the last straw for single-use plastics that threaten water health and environmental quality. Each of us can be part of the solution by committing to Shedd the straw from our everyday lives, ultimately reducing the amount of plastic straws consumed – and thus disposed of – every day.
For more information about Earth Day at Shedd Aquarium, please see below or visit www.sheddaquarium.org/EarthDay.
Hi-res photos and videos are available for download:
Photo credit: © Shedd Aquarium/Brenna Hernandez
Video credit: © Shedd Aquarium/Sam Cejtin