LifeTrial

A Few Celebrities Said We Should All #StopSucking, So I Spent A Week Trying To

This simple lifestyle change can have a huge positive impact on our environment.

LifeTrial is an original A Plus series where we try our hand at lifestyle trends, new and tried-and-true, that promise to have a positive impact. Whether it's the latest and greatest in technology or a wacky new fitness trend, we're excited to give it a go and report back on if it helped make life even better.

I suck.

No really, I do. Though I consider myself to be a generally thoughtful human, I can't deny that sometimes I can be a sucky person at home, at work, with friends and family. Pretty much everywhere. And you probably suck too.

But it's time for us all to #StopSucking by kicking our plastic straw habit because all that "sucking" has a terrible effect on our planet. 

I know what you're thinking. You only use straws every few days, right? Well, so does everyone else, and that plastic is adding up. 

In an effort to get people to think about their lifestyle habits differently, The Lonely Whale Foundation launched their #StopSucking campaign. The organization, which is dedicated to saving our oceans and marine life through education and awareness, hopes the campaign will encourage people to pledge to stop using plastic straws and challenge their friends to do the same. 

"Why are we asking you to #StopSucking?" the organization writes on its campaign page. "We use 500 MILLION plastic straws every day in the U.S. Many of those plastic straws end up in our oceans, polluting the water and harming sea life. If we don't act now, by 2050 plastics in the ocean will outweigh the fish."

I found out about the campaign through a video of celebrities saying that they suck, we suck, and we all need to stop sucking ASAP.  So, I took their advice. To start making whatever small difference I can, I decided to stop sucking for a week, and minimize a few of my other bad plastic habits in the process. 

You don't realize how much you suck until you see all the plastic in one place.

The week before I #StoppedSucking, I drank one iced coffee each day, had four cocktails with straws throughout the week, and ate out at two restaurants where I ordered drinks that came with straws. That's 13 plastic straws in just one week. In addition, I drank about three plastic water bottles each day, and four of those iced coffees came in plastic cups with lids. 

To give you, and myself, a better idea what that much plastic looks like, I recreated it with water bottles, straws, and plastic cups I already have. 

I try to reduce my carbon footprint in other ways by recycling, reducing the amount I contribute to fashion pollution, and using eco-friendly beauty products. But I never really thought about how excessive my plastic use was until I saw it all in one place like that. Taking stock of it, as it relates to my drinking habits, made me realize I could, and should, make a change. 

So, for the next week, I stopped using plastic straws all together. I'd pour iced coffee into my mugs at home and drink it sans straw. Instead of grabbing a bottle of water while home or out, I'd refill one of the many reusable water bottles and jars I have lying around. 

Because most restaurants and bars use plastic straws, I'd specifically ask for a drink without them while ordering out. For on-the-go drinks that often come in plastic cups with lids, I'd ask for my reusable bottle to be filled instead. Easy. 

Even though this is such a simple lifestyle change, I underestimated just how often we use straws.

This experiment made me realize how ingrained plastic use in our culture is in general. Throughout the week, I found myself reaching for plastic straws out of habit and forgetting to ask for drinks without them while out. And when I did ask, my request was often forgotten. 

I did always remember to ask for my reusable cup to be filled when ordering coffee. Baristas are used to filling customers' reusable to-go cups, so I had no problems with that. As you probably know, some coffeeshops even reward customers who bring their own cups by giving you a small discount. Saving 10 cents may not seem like a lot, but it adds up if you make it a habit.

While I had no plastic straws to recycle this week, I was disappointed to learn what happens to the straws I do recycle.

"While many plastic straws can be recycled, most are not recyclable," according to The Lonely Whale Foundation. "While some straws are made from #2 or #5 plastic, which is recyclable, straws are too lightweight and often don't make it through the recycling sorter. Further, many communities don't allow plastic straws to be recycled no matter the material. Like the plastic bag and soda can rings, straws fall under the category of 'single-use plastics.' " 

Some straws end up incinerated, which puts toxic chemicals into the air, while others end up in the ground for hundreds of years leaching chemicals into landfills. 

"Plastic degrades very slowly. This means plastic straws will stay in landfills for a long time and given the erosion that can occur in the "bottom layer" of a landfill, some straws in landfills may also reach our ocean through local water ways. Seabirds that frequent open landfills may also ingest plastic straws," according to The Lonely Whale Foundation. "An estimated 71 percent of seabirds and 30 percent of turtles have been found with plastics in their stomachs. When they ingest plastic, marine life has a 50 percent mortality rate."

Or, they end up in our oceans. And sucky beachgoers don't help. Not only can their noise pollution ruin the tranquility of the atmosphere, but their tangible pollution (plastic straws, specifically) are having a detrimental effect on our oceans.   

"Conventional wisdom recognizes most plastic straws that make it into the ocean are either left on the beach, dropped on sidewalks and streets, fall off of boats or blow out of trash cans and transport vehicles. All it takes is a gust of wind or rain storm to push these straws into water ways and into the ocean," the organization wrote. 

Paper straws don't all totally suck, and there's plenty of other eco-friendly, reusable straw options available, too.

While plastic straws are the most common type of straw used, there are plenty of alternative, eco-friendly options.

In the disposable, single-use category you've got paper straws. They come in fun patterns and colors and are biodegradable. If they do end up in the ocean, paper straws are safe for marine life. Many recycling facilities don't accept food contaminated paper products, but at least you can still compost them. I've definitely used paper straws that have gotten soggy and started to disintegrate before I finished my drink (like the one pictured above), but there are plenty of quality ones on the market. I recommend Aardvark paper straws which are made in the USA, use only FDA compliant, food-grade materials, and are biodegradable and compostable. 

There are also tons of different kinds of reusable straws available: glass, stainless steel, titanium, and bamboo are all great alternatives to plastic. 

I've personally only tried paper straws so far, but now that I know how harmful plastic straws are for the environment, I'll definitely be looking into these other eco-friendly alternatives. 

Despite how ubiquitous is, we should all try to #StopSucking, and be more mindful of the environment.

Straws might be nice, and bendy straws are even better, but the reality is that they're unnecessary for most people. Forgoing a plastic straw when a cup serves as the perfect vessel for getting iced green tea into your mouth is a small sacrifice to make, but it might just make a real difference for our environment. 

I do want to point out that some people with physical challenges need to use straws. Using a plastic one could be the difference between drinking liquids or having none at all and it's important that we acknowledge that when talking about lifestyle changes like these. The Lonely Whale Foundation is currently working with people with disabilities to identify which types of straws may be best for them, and I look forward to seeing the results of their straw test. 

For those who do have the option to #StopSucking right now, it's pretty easy to ditch them for good once you realize the impact they have on the environment. I challenge you to give it a shot. You might be surprised by how great you feel for taking a stand and trying to make a positive impact by doing something the requires very little effort. 

Cover image via Unsplash 

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