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A visitor to Shedd's pop-up Shedd the Straw promotion on World Oceans Day at Chicago's Navy Pier add her pledge to a large chalk board.
A sea star found by Shedd researchers in the Bahamas sits on the sandy ocean floor with a plastic chips bag stuck to its rough body.

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The problem of plastic pollution

Today, plastic pollution is found in almost every marine habitat on Earth, including polar sea ice and the deepest ocean trenches. About 8.8 million tons of plastic enter the ocean from sources on land each year. That’s the equivalent of a dump truck pouring a load of plastic trash into the ocean every minute, every day. Unless we do something about it, that rate is expected to double by 2025.

The concentration of plastic in lakes and rivers can be even higher than in the ocean. About 22 million pounds of plastic—much of it litter—winds up in the Great Lakes every year.

On average, every American throws away 270 pounds of plastic a year, and only about 9 percent is recycled. Straws, which cannot be recycled due to small size and plastic type, consistently show up among the top 10 items collected in beach cleanups around the world, along with beverage bottles, shopping bags, coffee lids and other single-use plastic. This debris, whole or in bits, harms fishes, sea turtles, seabirds and marine mammals.

Plastic straws, dirty from many days of lying on a sandy beach in Curacao, are shown gathered and dramatically presented in front of a beautiful sandy beach bordering the ocean.

How you can help

Reducing single-use plastic is the first step to plastic-free waters. Skipping the straw you don’t need is a simple, but powerful, action that raises awareness about the need to reduce more kinds of single-use plastic. It sends a signal to businesses and government officials that there is public support for change.

If you prefer straws, you can opt for more sustainable, reusable alternatives such as glass, steel, or bamboo. If you already carry a reusable shopping bag and water bottle, having a reusable straw is the next step in protecting aquatic animals and their habitats. Of course, ACP strongly supports having plastic straws available and accessible to those who need them.

In the first year of the partnership, the 22 ACP facilities kept more than 5 million plastic straws out of the environment through their own operations. In addition, with ACP support, nearly 500 businesses, including the Chicago White Sox, United Airlines and Loews Chicago hotel, now offer straws only on request, along with other plastic-reduction commitments.

Visit for more examples of what you can do and to support the work of the Aquarium Conservation Partnership.

Shedd volunteers engage visitors to Navy Pier on Earth Day to promote a campaign to "Shedd the straw".

What Shedd is doing

Shedd Aquarium is one of the founding members of the ACP and helped develop the strategies to combat plastic pollution. We have already eliminated many single-use plastic products, including bags and straws, in our operations and are working with vendors, our gift store and our food service to reduce plastic packaging.

Through our Reduce Plastic Pollution campaign, we are raising awareness about single-use plastics among our guests, members, online followers and the metro Chicago community to increase consumer demand for innovative alternatives—and make those alternatives available through our stores and product partnerships.

Sustainability at Shedd: Water, Energy and Waste

Sustainability has always been a focus at Shedd. Our early aquarists may not have recognized the term, but they certainly would have recognized the importance of avoiding waste, especially when they had to import their seawater all the way from the Gulf of Mexico.

Read More , on the Sustainability at Shedd: Water, Energy and Waste page

About the Aquarium Conservation Partnership

The Aquarium Conservation Partnership is a collaboration of 22 public aquariums in 17 states, all committed to advancing conservation of the world’s ocean, lakes and rivers through consumer engagement, business leadership and policy changes. ACP was founded by Shedd Aquarium, Monterey Bay Aquarium in California and National Aquarium in Baltimore in collaboration with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.