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The Last Straw

Envision a day when plastic straws are no more

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Pick a straw, any straw, as long as it’s reusable. Getting rid of single-use plastic straws might seem like a drop in the bucket when it comes to reducing plastic waste, but it’s part of a larger goal when working on lasting habits. Remembering to request drinks without the usual plastic straw gets us in the mindset to think about bringing our tote bags to the grocery stores, using reusable glass containers for food … and not forgetting our reusable straw on the table.

Northeast Florida isn’t known for being on the swift side when it comes to new ideas and trends, we’re definitely starting to get on board. We are lucky to have lots of eco-warriors in the region, and Alicia Smith is one of the strongest voices among them. As the Volunteer Coordinator for The Girls Gone Green and Commissioner for Keep Jacksonville Beautiful, she is dedicated to protecting the environment in an active, hands-on way. She helps organize and participates in many cleanups and environmental-based projects within the area and she’s learned first-hand that, during those cleanups on banks of rivers and on the dunes at the ocean, straws are among the most-found items she unearths. That these plastic objects turn up so often has confirmed her resolve to be an advocate of going strawless.

When out and about, Alicia Smith says we must be bold and be quick, “I try to catch the server, if I know I’m in a place that brings you a glass of water, to make sure they bring it sans straws. Also, I try to order a beverage [like beer or wine] that doesn’t need a straw.” Straws are slippery beasts and even though you’ve tossed your to-go cup or tied it tightly in a (plastic) trash bag, straws still find a way. They settle in gutters, riverbanks, ditches and roadways. One good rainstorm, which is unusual here in tropical Florida, and single-use plastic straws go spiraling into storm drains and out into the waterways. “Whether we clean up by the river, or the beach, or just walking down the street, straws are everywhere.”

For those with disabilities who need a straw to eat and drink and for those who really enjoy using a straw, there are options. Paper, metal, glass, bamboo, hay-based and pasta (yes, uncooked pasta straws are a real thing), there’s a design and a material out there for you. You can benefit the local economy and environment at the same time when you purchase a reusable straw at a local shop like Present Moment Café in St. Augustine; Grassroots Natural Food Market in Riverside is going to be offering them soon.

“We are too dependent on plastics and single-use plastics at that,” says Smith. “First straws, then Styrofoam, then plastic bags, then the world!” Keep an eye out for an upcoming local campaign from The Girls Gone Green; you can pledge your allegiance and join like-minded strawless Jacksonvillians.

Flex your consumer muscles by making choices to drink or dine with an establishment that’s committed to going strawless. There’s no need to shame restaurants and bars into joining the movement, but if enough us start to say no to straws, they’ll start to get the message. Ted’s Montana Grill in Town Center has long been committed to classic paper straws. San Marco staple bar, Sidecar, went strawless last year and Riverside Liquors is moving toward paper straws. Smith says Present Moment Café serves its juices and smoothies with glass straws and gives a shout-out to local bartender “Sean O’Brien at Birdie’s, who doesn’t put straws in your cocktail unless he’s asked.”

If you’re still not convinced that committing to strawlessness is the way to go, you can join Alicia Smith out in the community. “A great way to help and to see first-hand how single-use plastic straws are affecting our environment is to get out there and help clean up.” The St. Johns Riverkeeper, Sea Shepherd, Groundwork Jacksonville, Surfrider Northeast Florida and Keep Jacksonville Beautiful all hold monthly cleanups. See for yourself, and make the change in your life. For more information on going strawless and how it impacts our world, check out One Less Straw, Lonely Whale, Skip The Straw, Ocean Conservancy, Surfrider Foundation, Simply Straw and Plastic Free July. “We may not be able to change the world, but we sure can change the city we live in.”

Here are some easy ways to keep the momentum going:

1) Refuse straws in your drinks when you’re out and about.
2) Tote around your own reusable straw.
3) Request bars, restaurants and coffee shops you frequent to find alternatives to  plastic straws.
4) Sign a petition to ban straws in Florida if one passes your way.

Remember, it’s up to each of us to contribute to breaking that camel’s back with … the last straw!

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