Celebrate National Skip the Straw Day

It's an annual reminder to purge superfluous single-use plastics from your life.

handful of dirty straws

Ocean Conservancy

Feb. 26, is National Skip the Straw Day, an annual reminder for people to give up straws in their drinks as a way to fight plastic pollution and help the planet. Despite straws being one of the first single-use plastic items to get targeted seriously by plastic reduction campaigns in the past decade, they continue to show up on beaches and in waterways around the world.

Ocean Conservancy reports that straws are among the top 10 most common items found during its International Coastal Cleanup event, held every September. "In 2019, volunteers removed nearly a million straws and stirrers in a single day’s efforts. Since 1986, volunteers have collected nearly 14 million straws and stirrers from beaches and waterways around the world." This straw waste poses a real threat to marine wildlife, as it contributes to gastrointestinal blockages when ingested and can get jammed in their noses, as a distressing viral video of a turtle revealed in 2015.

Coastal Cleanup numbers

Ocean Conservancy

The collection numbers are a mere fraction of the number of straws actually being used. Pre-pandemic, an estimated half-billion straws were used daily in the US – enough to fill 127 school buses, circle the Earth 2.5 times, and weigh as much as 1,000 cars. That may seem impossibly high, but when you stop to think about all the milk and juice boxes distributed with straws in schools, all the cocktails handed out at bars, sit-down restaurants, and on airplanes, and all the Frappuccinos and smoothies purchased on the way to and from work (back when we used to do all these things), it's no longer so impossible to believe. 

While the world has yet to return to normal, there's a real risk that these habits could make a comeback, so Ocean Conservancy's Skip the Straw campaign still sends an important message. Of course, there are situations in which straws are required or helpful for people with disabilities or older adults to consume beverages, but this campaign applies to those who do not require straws to drink and whose beverage consumption would not be affected negatively by a lack of straws.  

skip the straw campaign sign

Ocean Conservancy

Avoiding straws can be an effective way to get people used to the idea of giving up certain superfluous plastics. Allison Schutes, director of the International Coastal Cleanup at Ocean Conservancy, told Treehugger that straws are a great place to start precisely because they're often unnecessary:

"It’s an easy first lift that tends to have a snowball effect into other areas. When you choose to skip the straw, you begin to think about and realize how so many other single-use plastics are unnecessary and can easily be replaced with reusable alternatives. Suddenly, you start to incorporate reusable shopping bags and coffee mugs into your routine. Next, you might look for items that are packaged in reusable containers, or in packaging that is made of recycled content. And along the way, collectively, we are having an impact, and signaling to companies that they need to do better and do more."

If you have not yet given up straws, then this is the year to do so. Use your lips to drink from a glass; it's not a big deal. Buy an insulated coffee mug that comes with a built-in straw (like these beauties from Klean Kanteen). Explore alternatives like straws made from stainless steel, paper, bamboo, glass, pasta, and even hay (yes, kind of like real straw – it's brilliant). 

Avoiding straws won't save the world – there are definitely much bigger plastic polluters out there – but this is a sort of "indicator species" that sets the tone for a broader cultural shift away from single-use plastics. Add your voice to the Ocean Conservancy's campaign today by sharing on social media and pledging to reject straws from now on.