More than half a million straws are thrown away daily in the U.S. These get blown and washed into oceans and rivers, where animals mistake them for food.
The anti-straw movement is gaining momentum, as people realize how pointless these pieces of tough-to-recycle, short-lived plastic tubes truly are. Various movements have sprung up, such as The Last Plastic Straw, Straw Free, and the No Straw Challenge, urging people to refuse plastic straws outright and ask their favorite restaurants and bars to eliminate them entirely.
Joining the call for change is a new 30-minute documentary film called “Straws.” Made by Linda Booker and narrated by Oscar winner Tim Robbins, it traces the history of plastic straws and attempts to explain how we’ve gotten to the point where more than half a million straws are thrown away daily in the United States.Booker speaks with a number of individuals who study and work to prevent plastic pollution, including the biologists whose cringe-worthy video about extracting a straw from a sea turtle’s nose went viral in 2015, inspiring many to action.
Another interviewee is Sarah Mae Nelson, a climate and conservation interpreter at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. While Nelson admits that plastic is a “miracle product,” and not all plastic is bad, particularly in medical settings, she offers an important reminder: “As with any resource, we have to use it wisely.”
Pam Longobardi is a professor of art at Georgia State University. She is angry about the extent of the pollution and holds on to pieces of plastic that have marks of attempted consumption by sea turtles as forensic evidence. She tells Booker:
“Plastic is functioning as an imposter for food for many creatures, which is a crime… It is a kind of invader, a new substance. It is not from the earth in the way that other things are from the Earth. Nature doesn’t have a way to deal with this, so it’s coming back to haunt us.”
The “Straws” film speaks with Jenna Jambeck, associate professor at the University of Georgia, whose landmark study quantifying how much plastic enters the ocean annually has opened many people’s eyes to the severity of the problem. Her discovery? Eight million metric tons of plastic enter the ocean each year. To put this in perspective, Jambeck says it is equivalent to five grocery-sized bags filled with plastic, stacked on top of each other, for every foot of coastline in the world. As if that’s not bad enough, with increasing population and plastic use, the number is set to double by 2025.
There is a slight bit of hope offered in one interview with Erik Zettler, a research professor for the Sea Education Association. Zettler, who describes his specialty as “debunking myths,” explains that there’s no such thing plastic lasting forever. He reassures that microbes are incredibly versatile, that they will eventually break everything down, even if it takes many centuries. The best way to clean up the ocean, therefore, is to stop putting plastic in and let the microbes do their work.
Hopeful, too, are the restaurants, bars, and resorts featured in the film that have stopped offering plastic straws. Instead, they have paper ones that can last 3 hours in drinks without dissolving.
Considering its title, I expected the film to focus more on straws than it actually does. Much of the film looks at ocean plastic pollution in general, but that’s a valuable message, too. We, as consumers, need to change our consumption behavior when it comes to plastic. Not everyone has the option to do so, but for those of us who can, the film’s message is clear: Avoid plastic packaging, especially straws, whenever possible.
Trailer below. The film is now available for community screenings and educational use here.