With the world’s oceans and rivers increasingly choked with plastic waste, the San Antonio Zoo is challenging local businesses to do their part to help, starting with the plastic straw.
Through its Straws No Más campaign, the zoo wants businesses to commit to abandoning plastic straws after taking a pledge on its website. Several local trade associations are also supporting the initiative.
Plastic waste in the environment harms countless animals that ingest or get tangled in it. A video on the Straws No Más website shows a sea turtle appearing to shudder in pain as biologists use pliers to remove a plastic straw from its nostril.
Plastic waste also harms people who eat seafood embedded with “microplastics,” zoo CEO Tim Morrow told the Rivard Report.
“You’ve seen the pictures of the floating masses of trash,” Morrow said. “I think the world is getting a little bit of slap in the face now: ‘Wake up, look what you’ve been doing to the planet.’”
A national conversation has emerged this year over doing away with straws or replacing them with more environmentally friendly alternatives. Starbucks announced it would eliminate them in July, shortly after Seattle banned plastic straws and utensils in bars and restaurants.
The zoo’s Straws No Más website states that Americans use 500 million plastic straws per day, the same statistics that often shows up in news reports. That number comes from Milo Cress, a 17-year-old who started the Be Straw Free campaign when he was 9.
Some hotel and restaurant chains, including Marriott, have already said they will phase out plastic straws, said San Antonio Tourism Council President and CEO Marco Barros.
The tourism council is among the trade groups supporting Straws No Más. Others include the San Antonio Hotel and Lodging Association, the San Antonio Restaurant Association, and the San Antonio River Walk Association.
“A lot of supplies and vendors are going into the paper straws and other resources,” Barros said. “We get information almost daily now of different people using that. The movement is really to convert all of that to paper, which is degradable.”
Restaurant Association Executive Director Amanda Garcia said many of her organization’s members have also taken the pledge.
“Many of our member restaurants have switched to wooden stir sticks to replace the small plastic straws for coffee and mixed beverages,” Garcia said in an email. “Many also only give a straw if one is requested. Additionally, some are trying paper straws, pasta straws, and straws made from corn cellulose or other natural or environmentally friendly products.”
Some critics of the straw-free movement say it doesn’t go nearly far enough to cut down on plastic that gets used only once but take hundreds of years to degrade. Efforts to stop the use of other plastic products have often hit roadblocks.
In Texas, courts struck down bans on plastic grocery bags in Laredo and Austin. Activists with Environment Texas have so far not succeeded in getting fast food chain Whataburger to commit to finding an alternative to polystyrene cups.
Plastic fishing line is what caused wing injuries to several rescue pelicans now living at the San Antonio Zoo, Morrow said.
He acknowledged that straws make up a fraction of the plastic piling up around the world, but he called them an excellent “conversation starter.”
“Sadly, there’s a crisis that’s creating the conversation, but we need to take advantage of this time,” Morrow said.