Shedd the Straw FAQ

What’s the problem with plastics?
Each year approximately 22 million pounds of plastic enter our Great Lakes and 19 billion pounds of plastic enter our oceans. Single-use plastic items, which are only used for a short time and then thrown away, can last in our waters for decades or longer and can be harmful in many ways: they litter our shorelines and beaches, they can be harm the health of wildlife and their habitats, and as they break down into smaller pieces, these small plastic fibers or fragments can enter our drinking water (Holland et al., 2016, Kosuth et al., 2018).

How are plastics ending up in our environment?
Plastic litter can often end up in our waterways when it is carried by wind or water from overfilled garbage cans, dump trucks, landfills or littered beaches and streets.

What about recycling?
Many plastic items, straws included, cannot be recycled. Even plastic items that can be recycled are at risk of blowing away from collection sites, being dropped on the ground, or carried by storm sewers into rivers that flow into larger bodies of water. 

Why straws?
Plastic straws are one of the top ten litter items found on beach cleanups in the Great Lakes regions and along our oceans. In 2017, beach cleanup volunteers from around the world found enough straws to reach the height of over 10,000 palm trees or 462 Willis Towers. One study estimated that as many as 8.3 billion plastic straws pollute the world’s beaches.

Is plastic pollution a problem in the Great Lakes?
Yes! Approximately 22 million pounds of plastic enter the Great Lakes ecosystem each year. Just in Lake Michigan―Shedd’s backyard―plastic pollution could fill approximately 100 Olympic-sized swimming pools annually. Chicago is responsible for nearly 30 percent of all plastic entering the Great Lakes each year. (Matthew J. Hoffman, 2017) 

How does plastic impact fishes and other aquatic animals?
When plastic items like straws find their way into ecosystems, the animals that live in them are at risk. Fishes, turtles, sea lions, otters, birds and whales get entangled in plastic trash. Many animals mistake plastic debris, including bags and colorful lids, for food, nibbling on it or ingesting it entirely. They can starve because their stomachs are filled with plastic, not food. In the Great Lakes alone, roughly 10 percent of freshwater bird species had ingested plastic debris. (Holland ER, 2016)

What is Shedd doing about straws in the aquarium?
Shedd Aquarium has eliminated single-use plastics, such as straws, individual condiment containers and shopping bags, from its restaurants and stores while also providing plastic recycling receptacles for guests and staff members. Shedd now offers paper, compostable straws upon request at our dining facilities.

What is the Shedd the Straw campaign?
Through our #SheddTheStraw campaign, we are collaborating with individuals, businesses, and communities reduce their use of single-use plastic straws. We’ve also partnered with more than 300 restaurants and other collaborators who have pledged to only serve straws upon request and switch to a reusable or compostable alternative. The #SheddTheStraw campaign is raising public awareness of plastic pollution and reducing the amount of plastic that enters our lakes, rivers and oceans.

What can I do?
 • Commit to reducing or cutting out single-use plastic items, like straws water bottles, and bags, from your daily life.

 • BYOS – bring your own straw! There are great reusable straw options including bamboo, metal, glass and silicone.  

 • Spread the word and encourage others to join.

  • When you are at a restaurant, ask for your drink without a straw and encourage the restaurant to become a #SheddTheStraw business collaborator.   

 Restaurants and other businesses can join the movement as a #SheddTheStraw business collaborator. Lean more here or contact sheddthestraw@sheddaquarium.org to join.