Aquar­i­ums push to re­duce use of plas­tic straws

Chattanooga Times Free Press - - REGION - BY MARK PACE STAFF WRITER

A coali­tion of U.S. aquar­i­ums, in­clud­ing the Chat­tanoogabased Ten­nessee Aquar­ium, is dou­bling down on its at­tempt to dras­ti­cally re­duce the use of plas­tics straws and other sin­gle-use plas­tic.

The Aquar­ium Con­ser­va­tion Part­ner­ship, con­sist­ing of 22 aquar­i­ums in 17 states, is ask­ing 500 more restau­rants and busi­nesses to pledge to of­fer straws only upon re­quest as part of its “#FirstStep Cam­paign.” The coali­tion, which launched in 2017, al­ready has com­mit­ments from other busi­nesses in­clud­ing United Air­lines, the Chicago White Sox, Dig­nity Health hos­pi­tals and Farmer Broth­ers Cof­fee.

“We’re try­ing to send out a re­ally pos­i­tive mes­sage that the things you do can make a re­ally big dif­fer­ence,” aquar­ium Di­rec­tor of Sci­ence Ed­u­ca­tion Brooke Gor­man said. “One of the things that can re­ally make a dif­fer­ence is if restau­rants aren’t just au­to­mat­i­cally hand­ing you a straw but sav­ing them for the peo­ple who ask for them.”

Part­ner­ship com­pa­nies have elim­i­nated more than 5 mil­lion straws per year, and some have stopped us­ing plas­tic shop­ping bags and com­mit­ted to re­duc­ing or elim­i­nat­ing plas­tic bev­er­age bot­tles by 2020. In ad­di­tion to busi­nesses, the part­ners are seek­ing on­line pledges from in­di­vid­u­als in­ter­ested in re­duc­ing their use of straws.

About 500 mil­lion straws are used daily in the United States, ac­cord­ing to es­ti­mates from both the U.S. gov­ern­ment and en­vi­ron­men­tal groups fo­cused on re­duc­ing sin­gle-use plas­tics. Most re­cy­cling cen­ters do not ac­cept straws, mean­ing the plas­tic of­ten ends up in streams through storm drains or in land­fills. The part­ners be­lieve re­duc­ing straw use is a log­i­cal and easy first step so­ci­ety can take to tackle plas­tic pol­lu­tion.

“The health of our lakes and rivers is im­por­tant not only to the wildlife that live there — they are a recre­ation and eco­nomic re­source for us all,” Brid­get Cough­lin, pres­i­dent and CEO of part­ner­ship mem­ber Chicago’s Shedd Aquar­ium said in a state­ment. “Be­yond in­spir­ing the pub­lic to take ac­tion, it’s our duty to em­power busi­nesses and com­mu­nity lead­ers to raise the is­sue of plas­tic pol­lu­tion tak­ing place in both fresh­wa­ter and marine habi­tats, lead by ex­am­ple and make long-last­ing, im­pact­ful change.”

Straws are a small piece of the much larger prob­lem of sin­gle-use plas­tic. Mi­croplas­tics are fill­ing rivers and oceans, and the im­pact of that is still not fully un­der­stood as stud­ies are still in their in­fancy.

Lo­cally, mi­croplas­tic has filled the Ten­nessee River at an alarm­ing rate. The most com­pre­hen­sive study on sur­face pol­lu­tants in the Ten­nessee River’s his­tory was com­pleted last month and found the river has 80 per­cent more mi­croplas­tic

“It’s our duty to em­power busi­nesses and com­mu­nity lead­ers to … lead by ex­am­ple and make long-last­ing, im­pact­ful change.”


than China’s Yangtze River — which a study found to be the source of 55 per­cent of all river-born plas­tic en­ter­ing the ocean — and 8,000 per­cent higher than the much more heav­ily pop­u­lated Rhine River in Europe.

“The con­cen­tra­tion of mi­croplas­tics [re­searcher An­dreas] Fath recorded was alarm­ing, es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing that his team was only sam­pling the water clos­est to the sur­face,” said Anna Ge­orge, the Ten­nessee Aquar­ium’s vice pres­i­dent of con­ser­va­tion sci­ence and ed­u­ca­tion, via a state­ment. “Based on this in­for­ma­tion, we be­lieve there are even more par­ti­cles along the riverbed where the heav­ier plas­tics would end up.”

In response, the aquar­ium has promised to con­tinue re­search­ing the im­pact of plas­tic pol­lu­tion on the health of the en­vi­ron­ment and take steps to re­duce waste. The aquar­ium has switched to re­cy­clable pa­per straws and is en­cour­ag­ing other busi­nesses to do the same or dras­ti­cally re­duce their use of plas­tic straws.

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