Eastern Long Island non-profit organizations, restaurants, take-out markets and schools are doing their part to chip away at a staggering statistic.
According to the National Park Service, Americans use 500 million straws each day. And according to local environmental organizations like the Eastern Long Island Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, Group for the East End and the Atlantic Marine Conservation Society (AMCS), lots of those straws turn up as litter in the beach cleanups conducted by their volunteers on the north and south forks.
“On a lot of the beaches, you can literally stand in one spot, dig through the seaweed and rock line and pick up little tiny plastics,” said Jessica Kennelly, an environmental educator with Group for the East End, who lives in Southold. “It’s awful. One of the most common marine debris particles we find on the beach is straws. Obviously, this is a major problem. It’s happening all over the world.”
Eastern LI Surfrider has launched a campaign dubbed “Strawless Summer,” and Group for the East End, the AMCS and The Last Straw have signed on as supporters. Together, they have recruited 17 participants — including Provisions Natural Foods Market and Café, the Dockside and Page at 63 Main in Sag Harbor, Pierre’s and Almond in Bridgehampton, the Surf Lodge and Montauk Beach House in Montauk, as well as Hampton Bays High School and Middle School among several others — to take the “Strawless Summer” pledge. Those that have done so are displaying sea turtle decals on their front door or window.
Colleen Henn, the chapter coordinator for Eastern LI Surfrider, said the campaign has three main components: Go strawless entirely, provide paper straws or bamboo straws upon request only or go with reusable alternatives.
“There’s a lot of movement around straws right now,” Ms. Henn said. “We decided to champion it in our community. It’s a relatively easy way to start the conversation because straws in 98 percent of circumstances they aren’t really necessary. It’s a great way to start a conversation about single-use plastics and about using items that are replaceable or removable.”
At Page at 63 Main, general manager Eric Peele called the campaign “an important cause that more people should get involved in.” However, he said, the paper straws the restaurant has been providing to customers upon request are double the price of plastic straws.
“But it’s such a good cause,” Mr. Peele said. “Price shouldn’t be an issue when we’re trying to save the marine life. People are coming around to it.”
Ms. Henn acknowledged the alternative straws are more expensive.
“That’s the reason plastic is everywhere — it’s so cheap,” she said. “But if you look at the long-term costs of plastic littering our streets and our beaches, it’s worth paying more for a material that will actually degrade.”
The Long Island Aquarium in Riverhead is also participating, offering customers who request them biodegradable straws made from vegetables and selling reusable straws. Darlene Puntillo, an aquarium representative, said the aquarium saw the Strawless Summer campaign as an opportunity to make guests “think about if they really need one and to think about the repercussions of straws on marine life.”
“No one likes change, but it’s really for the best,” she said. “With the disposable bag issue this year, we know people think more about reducing their plastic waste, so I hope they are receptive to this change.”
Individual people can do their part, too.
“You can go on Amazon.com and they literally have a pack of eight stainless steel straws, curved or straight ones, and they’re $7,” Ms. Kennelly said. “I even carry a few extra in case my friends don’t have them. They even come with cleaners.”
And Alli DePerte, a research associate and field biologist with the AMCS, said parents can educate their children.
“What kid doesn’t love a straw? I have a four-year-old and it’s something I’m trying to teach him about,” she said.
Eastern LI Surfrider is sponsoring screenings of a documentary called “Straws” throughout the summer. Upcoming showings are Thursday, June 21, at 7 p.m. at the Shelter Island Library; Thursday, June 28, at 7 p.m. at the Hampton Bays Library; and Thursday, July 19, at 4 p.m. at the Greenport Cinema. More information is available at easternli.surfrider.org/programs/strawless-summer/.