Southwest Florida cities starting to use paper straws at beaches, restaurants
You can get one at almost any restaurant, and kids love when they lose a tooth so they can use one between their teeth.
Straws, specifically plastic straws, are the latest on an increasing list of single-use plastic products some U.S. cities are banning, such as Seattle. And some Southwest Florida cities are starting to do the same.
Marco Island City Council in March banned businesses from using plastic straws on the beach side of Collier Boulevard, following a plastic straw ban by Fort Myers Beach in November.
Eco-friendly alternatives for plastic straws
A restaurant described on Google as a "relaxed, eco-chic chain" is serving up more than health-conscious fare while customers sit in their recycled soda-can furniture.
True Food Kitchen, in the Waterside Shops in Naples, switched to using straws made out of biodegradable corn a few months ago.
"Obviously, straws are really bad for the environment, and we try to do everything sustainably," general manager Aaron Teegarden said. "It's something that we've looked at and wanted to do for a long time."
With beverages such as water, customers would need to ask for a corn straw, but customers will automatically receive corn straws with drinks from the bar requiring a straw.
Corn straws are also used at Babcock Ranch, America's first city run completely on solar panel power located northeast of Fort Myers.
"Local beach restaurants are really seeing a big push for them," said Tom McGregor, Kitson & Partners food and beverage director at Babcock Ranch.
There's a current demand for stronger paper straws because they are completely biodegradable and compostable.
"Everybody just expects a straw. So sometimes when you ask, it's an opportunity to educate people," McGregor said. "The bigger mission is trying to find alternative ways of finding a product people are happy with, but one we know won't be around for the next thousand years clogging up the oceans."
As of now, there are no ordinances in Naples, Estero or Bonita Springs banning plastic straws.
"I have not heard of that topic surface yet," said Naples City Clerk Pat Rambosk.
Environmental impacts of plastic straws
Americans use and throw away more than 500 million single-use plastic straws per day — enough to fill over 125 school buses, says the National Park Service. That averages out to more than 1½ straws per person every day, of which the majority can't be recycled and end up in oceans and waterways.
Every year, the U.S. uses 175 billion straws — enough to wrap around the earth 2½ times, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. On average, between the ages of 5 and 65, each person in the U.S. will use 38,000 plastic straws, the FDEP says.
Plastic straws are among the top five items collected on beaches every year, and about 90 percent of trash in oceans is made from plastic, according to the state agency. A recent report by the World Economic Forum projects that by the year 2050, the plastic in oceans will outweigh the fish.
Their small size makes them dangerous for marine animals when straws end up in our oceans, exemplified by the viral video of scientists pulling a plastic straw from the nostril of an olive ridley sea turtle.
Straws contribute to the 5.25 trillion pieces of marine trash that have ended up in the ocean, according to National Geographic.
Marine debris is anything man-made and discarded that enters the environment. Debris in the ocean can spread invasive species, introduce toxic pollutants, endanger human health and injure or kill wildlife.
Plastic debris in oceans and waterways will break down over time, but will never fully degrade. The microplastics — small pieces of plastic left that don't decompose — can be ingested by marine life, then passed up the food chain to humans, the FDEP says.
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The EU just proposed a ban on the plastic straws and cutlery that litter our oceans and end up in landfills. Is the U.S. next?
History of the straw — metal, gold, paper
The earliest evidence of humans using straws comes from a seal found in a Sumerian tomb dated 3,000 B.C. It shows two men using what appear to be straws drinking beer from a jar. The same tomb contained the first known straw in history — a tube made from gold and a precious blue stone lapis lazuli, but it's unlikely that Sumerians created the straw by themselves. For centuries, Argentinians drank something called "mate" or "bombilla" from metal straws.
The original patent for the straw dates to 1888. Until the 1960s, paper straws were the most common, but they posed a big problem: They disintegrated in drinks, which is why plastic straws became so popular in 1970s.
Aardvark Straws of Fort Wayne, Indiana, is changing that. As the nation's only producer of paper straws, Aardvark Straws are made in the U.S. from renewable resources, and they are biodegradable and 100 percent compostable, yet still rigid enough to not break down in your drink.
How to get involved, where to find eco-friendly straws
If people want to get involved with this cause, they can participate in local beach or river cleanups.
Florida also is promoting a "Skip the Straw" initiative, where individuals, schools, teachers and businesses can take a pledge on the agency's website to help reduce plastic pollution by promising to skip using single-use straws for one week.
If everyone in Florida took the pledge, FDEP says pollution from plastic straws could be reduced by 2.35 million straws.
If people are looking for eco-friendly alternatives to plastic straws, stainless steel drinking straws are available at places like Walmart, Target and on Amazon.com.
The Last Plastic Straw, a project of Plastic Pollution Coalition, compiled a list of alternatives to plastic straws including naturally degradable, glass, metal, and even ice straws you can make yourself in your freezer.
USA Today contributed to this story.