On ‘National Drinking Straw Day,’ I’m Calling for Stronger Policies to End Plastic Pollution in National Parks—and Beyond

By Jackie Nuñez, Founder of the Last Plastic Straw and Plastic Pollution Coalition Advocacy & Engagement Manager

On National Drinking Straw Day, I’m calling for stronger policies to end plastic pollution in National Parks—and beyond. 

Near the close of last year’s legislative session, a late night amendment in an appropriations bill was introduced by Rep. John Rose (R-TN) to block the order issued in June 2022 by Department of the Interior (DOI) Secretary Deb Haaland to phase out single-use plastic on public lands by 2032. Rep. Rose specifically called to exempt plastic straws from the phase-out, arguing that the “alternatives to plastics may not be more environmentally friendly” than plastic, citing a recent study detecting PFAS—a class of more than 15,000 synthetic chemicals—in paper straws. A discussion of the amendment is now upcoming in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

As Founder of The Last Plastic Straw, an organization committed to conveying the truths about single-use plastic plastic pollution, I must help put this misguided focus on plastic and paper straws to rest. Since 2011 I have advocated for straws upon request and banning the distribution of plastic straws and other single-use plastics, with exemptions made for those who truly need to use them.

Single-Use Plastics Do Not Belong In National Parks

The presence of PFAS in paper straws is concerning, but what’s more concerning is that this information is being used to defend the social license of plastic, which is far more toxic than paper straws. PFAS (known as “forever chemicals”) are a potent class of industrial chemicals that have been linked to cancer, reproductive problems, diminished immunity, metabolism disorders, and hormone disruption. They are commonly added to plastic items, and are sometimes used to coat items made of other materials to enhance their waterproof, nonstick, and other qualities. 

There are more than 13,000 chemicals found in commonly used plastics, at least 3,200 of which are known to be hazardous to human health—including many kinds of PFAS. Plastic straws and all plastic items pose physical threats to plants, wildlife, people, and ecosystems, as well as chemical dangers caused by plastic’s chemical additives and release of toxic micro- and nano-plastic particles

Many zoos, aquariums, and marine parks have long enforced policies prohibiting the sale and distribution of plastic straws to prevent harming the animals they house and their equipment. Yet, our public lands, which exist primarily for the conservation of nature, currently do not have the policies needed to stop single-use plastic from harming wildlife, plants and trees, and polluting our land, water, air, soils, and bodies. Our National Parks should not sell or distribute single-use plastics that end up polluting the very lands and waters the park system is supposed to protect.

The Reality of PFAS in Straws

CocoTruckPR coconuts with bamboo straws, Puerto Rico. Photo by Jackie Nuñez

So if we shouldn’t be using plastics in our parks, what is causing the confusion around plastic’s many alternatives, including paper straws? There are some important nuances to consider when assessing the presence of PFAS in paper and other plastic-alternative straws. 

I turned to PFAS expert Graham Peaslee, Concurrent Professor of Chemistry & Biochemistry, University of Notre Dame, and Co-founder, Chief Technical Officer, UMP Analytical, an expert on PFAS, for more clarification on PFAS toxicity in straws. (Peaslee was not involved in the straw research cited by Rep. Rose.) 

The concentrations seen in the paper straws…are too small to be the result of intentional addition of PFAS to the straw. The fact that there is such a wide variety of PFAS found in them helps support the idea that they come as contamination from many different sources—presumably as part of the recycled material used in the paper manufacturing process.

— Graham Peaslee

Peaslee added that the study’s sensitive measurements show how widespread PFAS contamination is in recycled paper. However, he also noted that the concentrations of PFAS found in the paper straws analyzed was a low level that did not seem intentionally added. Nor did the results seem to present an immediate public or environmental health threat, especially compared to other sources of PFAS. 

While conversations remain focused on plastic drinking straws, in reality it’s both the issues of plastic and single-use that is the problem. Rather than have an amendment to block the order to eliminate the sale and distribution of single-use plastic on public lands, the amendment should require that any alternative replacement to single-use plastics—whether single-use or reusable—must be at minimum, third- party certified as free of PFAS and other toxic chemicals. Ultimately, if you do not need to use a plastic straw, choosing no straw or a reusable straw is your best option. 

Of course plastic-free, non-toxic, and endlessly reusable bamboo, glass, and stainless steel straws, cutlery, and foodware are always a better option than any single-use item, plastic or otherwise. Reducing wastefulness at the source is the core part of all solutions to plastic pollution. Adding specificity to U.S. policies regulating plastic and its alternatives to require third-party material certification would be a major step in helping to eliminate wasteful plastic pollution as well as toxic chemicals on a wider scale. 

Take Action

To end plastic pollution, we must significantly cut plastic production, and the U.S. can do that by implementing stronger policies that better help ensure the safety of plastic’s replacements, while prioritizing reuse over single-use. Instead of picking on paper straws in order to gut policies that could help end plastic pollution, policymakers should strive to establish effective, nontoxic reuse systems that allow us to waste less.

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By Julianne Waite

Several years ago, a gut-wrenching video of a sea turtle having a plastic straw removed from its nose went viral. For many viewers, that painful video was their wake up call to the global issue of plastic pollution.

In the years since, awareness about the plastic pollution crisis has grown exponentially and a number of cities, towns, states, and countries around the world have enacted laws to limit plastic straws and other single-use foodware.

Interestingly, plastic straws did not become Public Enemy No. 1 because they are the most common type of plastic found in the ocean. In fact, studies suggest that plastic straws make up less than 0.025% of ocean plastic.

According to PPC project The Last Plastic Straw, plastic straws emerged as the front runner for the anti-plastic pollution movement because of what they represent: the epitome of unnecessary single-use plastic pollution for most people.

Plastic straws are designed to only be used one time for a convenient few minutes and then discarded to pollute our planet for centuries to come. And while there are certainly some individuals who do need a plastic straw, the vast majority of the world’s population does not.

And this is how plastic straws became the poster child of the anti-plastic pollution movement. If people can understand why plastic straws are unnecessary environmental hazard, it is an easy next step to see that the same is true of plastic bags and plastic water bottles and plastic cutlery and so on.

This is why we consider plastic straws to be the gateway plastic–they are the single-use item that opens up people’s awareness to the larger problem of plastic.

Now, perhaps you are totally on board with eliminating single-use plastic straws but you still need or prefer to enjoy your beverages with a straw. Well, we’ve got you covered! We compiled this Skip The (Plastic) Straw Day list featuring Plastic Pollution Coalition members.

Also, use this free download of a card that you can leave on the table at your favorite eatery to encourage them to stop offering plastic straws at their business.

Metal Straws

Metal straws are an excellent alternative to plastic straws. Why are metal straws so great? They are:

  • Endlessly reusable

  • Sturdy, so they are great for portability

  • Non-toxic

The most common type of metal straws available are made of stainless steel, however other types of metal straws are available as well, such as copper straws. Here are some of the metal straws our Coalition members offer:

Bambaw creates ‘zero-waste products for a better future,’ including a stainless steel straw set. Their metal straw bundle comes with 4 straws, 2 cleaning brushes, 2 bamboo cases, and a cotton carrying pouch.

Simply Straws may be better known for their glass straws, but they also offer quality stainless steel straws that come with a lifetime guarantee. They can be purchased individually or in combination with their mason jar lids as part of their Sip Set.

Steeley’s Drinkware offers a suite of high quality reusable stainless steel drinkware items including straws. Steeley’s straws come in a variety of colors and can also be custom printed.

U-Konserve has been helping people make small daily changes in efforts to go zero-waste since 2008. They offer a variety of reusable plastic alternatives including stainless steel straws that also come in gold and copper colors.

Uncommon James Home is a luxury homegoods line designed by celeb Kristin Cavallari and that features elegant copper straws that come in a set of four with a cleaning brush.

Klean Kanteen might be best known for their adorable reusable water bottles, but they also offer stainless steel straws with silicone tips, which are perfect for anyone with sensitive teeth.

ZippNada is an online store that offers affordable zero-waste gear, including reusable stainless steel straws in some very sleek colors.

Glass Straws

Another great sustainable alternative to single-use plastic straws are glass straws. They boast their own unique benefits including:

  • They are non-toxic

  • They are typically heat resistant, so they can be used in hot or cold beverages

  • They are reusable

  • They can have really beautiful designs

Here are some of the glass straws that out Coalition members offer:

Bambu offers 7″ glass straws that are both dishwasher and microwave safe. They are also made with extra thick walls to prevent them from breaking.

DrinkingStraws.Glass offers a variety of fun and useful glass straws including this one with a rainbow accent that will brighten anyone’s day! What is really cool about these straws is you can select your own diameter, length, and style (straight or curved) when you order online.

Simply Straws has a wide selection of glass straws in different shapes and sizes and that come in a range of fun colors. You can even personalize them, which makes them a great gift.

Glass Dharma is a family-owned leader in the glass straw industry. They offer a wide range of glass straws that range from sleek and simple to playful and ornate.

Collapsable Straws

If you are looking for a straw that will impress your friends and start conversations that raise awareness about plastic pollution, look no further than these awesome collapsable straws. Collapsable straws are great because:

  • They are super portable

  • They are great for impressing your friends

Check out these made by our Coalition members.

Final Straw boasts the original plastic-free folding straw. All of their straws come with a cleaning brush and a carrying case that is small enough to fit on your keychain. Designed for ultimate convenience, you will never forget your reusable straw again.

SUX Straw offers stainless steel extendable straws that come with travel cases and the optional add-on of a brightly colored silicone tip for some extra flare.

Life Without Plastic is an online store with a large selection of items that help people eliminate plastic from their lives. One of the the popular items they offer is a telescopic stainless steel straw that comes with a cleaner with natural bristles and a cotton carrying case.

Bamboo Straws

Bamboo straws are an excellent alternative to single-use plastic straws and have a number of great benefits including:

  • They are made from natural materials

  • They are reusable

  • They are often handmade

Check out these bamboo straws offered by some of our Coalition members.

Bambaw creates ‘zero-waste products for a better future,’ including reusable bamboo straws handmade from Indonesian bamboo. Their bamboo straws come in 3 lengths and with a cleaning brush.

Lovers of the Sea is an online store that offers a variety of products to help ocean lovers go plastic-free. One of their offerings is a 9 piece bamboo straw set that comes with two cleaners and a linen travel pouch.

Bambu introduced the first commercially available bamboo straw in 2012. Their straws come in sets of six with a cleaning brush. *BONUS* these straws are USDA certified organic.

Bamboo Mamboo supplies bamboo straws and other eco-friendly products to businesses and individuals around the world. Their straws are available for purchase by themselves, in sets of three, six, or in bulk. They also offer the option to customize straws.

Sustainable Single-Use Straws

We are huge advocates for all things reusable (including straws, of course!). But in some instances the reusable options listed above don’t make much sense, for example in the case of restaurants. For such instances we have some amazing sustainable alternatives to single-use plastic straws. Check them out below.

Aardvark offers paper straws that are durable, FDA food grade compliant approved, and made in the USA. Did we mention they come in super fun colors, too?

Fresh Straws are fresh, natural, biodegradable straws that are made out of grass that grows naturally and abundantly in Vietnam.

Harvest Straws offers sustainable drinking straws made from heritage grain in Southern California. These ultra low-carbon straws are hand-cut and non-GMO!

Holy City Straw Company was established to create awareness into the environmental impact of single-use plastic straws while providing an eco-friendly alternative that is 100% made by Mother Earth.

LOLIWARE makes straws out of seaweed that are non-GMO, 100% food grade, and designed to disappear after use.

Stroodles offers straws made out of pasta. Yup, you heard right–pasta! Flavorless, biodegradable, edible, and zero-waste, these pasta straws are a fun and creative alternative to plastic straws.

Green Straws offers straws made from 100% Vietnamese fresh rice flour, tapioca, natural colors, and no chemical preservatives.

Join our global Coalition.

Straws film is now available for home viewing! Gather your family & friends and share “one of the 5 documentaries to make you rethink single-use plastic.”

Narrated by PPC notable Tim Robbins and featuring PPC members, the film is “both an educational resource and a call to action.” (For Public Screenings & Schools, learn more here on licenses.)

In order to watch, simply follow the steps below:
1. Click the link: https://vimeo.com/ondemand/straws/
2. Select the $2.99 streaming option
3. Sign in using Google or Facebook or VIMEO
4. Apply the code ‘PPC’ in the payment window
5. The video will be ready to stream

Join our global Coalition.

By Californians Against Waste

In the past several years, the public perception of plastic pollution has increased dramatically, and so has the understanding of the urgency for the need to find solutions.

From straws to Styrofoam, 2018 offered the California legislature a number of opportunities to vote to reduce plastic waste. A diverse package of legislation tackling plastic pollution was introduced at the beginning of 2018, but only a select few of those bills made it through the entire legislative process and all the way to the Governor’s desk to be signed into law.

Governor Jerry Brown did in fact sign several of those bills into law and made his boldest statement to date on the public health and environmental threat posed by plastic pollution and waste. News stations around the country picked up the story of the “straws upon request” legislation becoming law in California, sparking a national conversation about the broader issue of plastic pollution. The 2018 package of plastic pollution reduction laws introduced in California included several additional key policies that tackle plastic pollution at different angles.

Phasing out non-recyclable to-go food packaging has remained a foundational goal for the environmental movement since the late 1980s, and in 2018 policy makers made a breakthrough. Senate Bill (SB) 1335, authored by Senator Ben Allen, which was signed into law, phases out takeout food packaging that is not widely recycled or composted, has toxic ingredients, makes up a significant portion of pollution in public spaces, or substantial negative impacts on wildlife from being used at state facilities, including state parks, beaches, colleges, office buildings, and fairgrounds. Arguably, the most significant component of the bill is that it redefines what is “recyclable” to mean only materials that are truly collected, sorted, processed, and recycled into new products. The policy approach used in this legislation offers a scalable solution and is a good model to use moving forward as California moves towards a comprehensive solution to phasing out unsustainable food packaging.

New research on the presence of microplastics in our diets found plastic to be present in 90% of table salt brands, and an even more disturbing study found microplastics to be present in human feces. Several pieces of legislation were introduced in 2018 in response to the growing concerns from the scientific community that continues to find alarming levels of plastic in our environment and the food and water we consume. Senator Anthony Portantino set California on track to increase our understanding of microplastic pollution and to work towards solutions. Two bills addressing microplastic pollution were signed into law this year, including SB 1263 which requires the Ocean Protection Council to develop and implement a statewide microplastics strategy which will include a research plan and recommendations for policy changes. The second bill, SB 1422, requires drinking water to be tested for the presence of microplastic pollution and for the results to be disclosed to the public. The implementation of these bills will provide the public and policy makers with the information necessary to understand the impact that microplastic pollution has on public health and the environment.

These new laws set the tone for future efforts to reduce plastic pollution and will shape the long term policy solutions to plastic waste in California and the world.

The mission of Californians Against Waste is to conserve resources, prevent pollution and protect California’s environment through the development, promotion and implementation of waste reduction and recycling policies and programs.

Join our global Coalition.