Sip, don’t suck: a new blow against ocean-harming plastics

It’s Plastic Free July.

Within days of Australian retailers Woolworths and Coles banning single-use plastic bags in their stores across the country, McDonald’s has announced it will phase out single-use plastic straws in its 970 restaurants around the country by 2020, following a similar move in Britain and Ireland.

As one of the biggest fast-food chains in the world, it has taken a major step towards improving the environment, and many hope that other businesses will follow suit.

There has been rising awareness of the effects which plastics have on biodiversity, particularly in the oceans. From “keep cups” to bamboo toothbrushes, a number of innovative solutions have become available, helping to start a trend that makes being environmentally friendly very “cool”.

“The company is currently working with local suppliers to find viable alternatives and will start a trial of paper straws in two restaurants from August.”

Single-use plastic straws have been a problem for a long time without many people knowing about it. They might be ubiquitous and convenient, but they are not biodegradable or recyclable, meaning they often end up in the oceans and even in the stomachs of fish, birds and turtles.

According to a CSIRO study quoted by the Strawless Ocean group, an estimated 71 per cent of sea birds and 30 per cent of turtles have been found with plastics in their stomachs, with nearly half of affected marine life dying because of it. Australians are said to use enough single-use straws every day to wrap around the Earth’s circumference 2.5 times.

Amid Plastic Free JulyHatch spoke to Rachel Richardson, a US marine biologist, diver and photographer with a passion for the environment, currently in Australia on an expedition of our coral reefs.

What effects does plastic has on biodiversity?
So the best way to conserve biodiversity is to look after environments rather than focusing on specifics species. Plastic tends to accumulate in some of the most important habitats for biodiversity, especially in the marine environment. Zooplankton [microscopic organisms] accumulates in certain areas of the ocean because of its nutrients and, unfortunately, so does plastic. With zooplankton absorbing this plastic, it then affects the marine life that eats it. By 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish!

What types of plastic is the most destructive?
The deadliest for sure is derelict fishing debris, also known as “ghost traps”, and abandoned fishing gear. In regards to just plastic, it would be single-use plastic bags.

Dead shark, tangled in netting in Pensocola, Florida.(Photo: Rachel Richardson)

What do you think about McDonald’s phasing out single-use plastic straws from their restaurants in Australia?
This is an amazing step in the right direction. Next step is to phase out the rest of plastic they use.

How important is it for people to be aware of how much plastic they use?
So important! One of my favourite quotes is: “If you think you’re too small to be effective, you’ve never been in the dark with a mosquito.” This is so true! We wouldn’t have to worry about plastic if we just didn’t use it. Your actions will inspire other and it’s such a simple solution. – montana__duncan