Go Strawless

Have we already heard enough about plastic pollution? No, on the contrary I believe we have become inured to the problem. Stop. Think. Do I need this straw, this bag, this little red stir stick, this little plastic green grass with my sushi, or that bottle of water? Baristas, bartenders, and food servers automatically provide a straw or a stir stick without asking, without thinking; and You, the consumers, immediately accept it and toss it away. So, the answer is NO! You don't need it. And YES! We need to keep talking about the problem of plastic consumption and waste until it no longer exists.

Jeff Bridges resolves to refuse plastic bottles; Amy Smart speaks out for us to end our plastic addiction; and Marisa Miller is a spokesperson for Surfrider Foundation. Jason Mraz sings out for us to care for our beautiful planet; and Ted Danson authored Oceana, a very detailed account of how we have hurt our oceans and how we can heal them; Woody Harrelson is a passionate environmentalist; Jack Johnson, the environmentally conscious surfer dude singer, sailed on the 5 Gyres expeditions and founded the social action network All At Once; and David de Rothschild constructed a boat called Plastiki from 12,500 recycled plastic bottles to sail the Pacific from San Francisco to Sydney. Each of these A-listers is an advocate raising awareness and funds to better our planet, and reduce the heaping pile of end-of-the-line plastic consumption and production. They are trendsetters-let's follow their examples of conservation versus consumption and refuse what you can't reuse!

I don't understand why every day, even the ardent conservationist continues to cling to old habits, even with celebrities speaking out, movies made educating and raising awareness about our polluted waters and forests, and campaigns around the globe providing solutions and encouraging us to change our habits. It is common knowledge that our earth suffers from plastic pollution. On the web and in the news we see images of vast islands of floating plastic, dead waterfowl and whales with decayed guts filled with our plastic throwaways, and riverbeds lined with plastic bottles and wrappers. Yet too few of us have stopped using single-use, end-of-the-line plastic.

My awareness and advocacy for eliminating plastic pollution began on a trip to Bali. I had lived in Indonesia in the 1980s, and a few years ago I returned for a visit. Today, Bali is an international destination for jet-setting, globe-trotting, and soul-seeking travelers. I knew there would be many changes: Luxury spa hotels along the beach where before the waves rolled up the shore and touched the rice fields. Loud, thumping "boom-boom" from the pulsating music of the crowded nightclubs where before I sat on the beach, looking at the stars, listening to the crashing waves and croaking frogs. And fashionable high-priced boutiques where there used to be makeshift food stalls serving scrumptious nasi goreng in banana leaves. But, what I did not expect to see were beaches lined with trash--plastic trash.


The overwhelming amount of pollution that had washed onto the beaches, floating in the ocean, and lining the riverbanks was astonishing. For my fellow travelers who hadn't seen Bali before it was shocking and disgusting. For me, who had experienced the pristine Bali, it was devastating. I was deeply saddened by this degradation to the landscape. Most of this pollution is from single use plastic, a result of the onslaught of global consumption and production of economical and portable packaging. Seeing those heaps of plastic, I was determined at that moment to do what I could to reverse this destructive process.

I am an advocate for refusing single-use plastic. I changed my habits. I speak out. Okay, maybe my strident frankness may annoy some people. Yet, just as in parenting, you can make a strong impact with a repeated message and through example with your actions. Children witness everything and from this they learn. When they leave home your voice and example echo in their subconscious. All of the well-intentioned advice you provided to them, even if they rebelled at the moment, will inspire within them action and conscious choices for better living. I hope for the same with my relentless personal campaign to put a stop to single-use plastic.

This problem needs attention, in your community and across the globe. In my travels, I witness how big-brand beverage companies-namely Coca Cola, Pepsi, and Nestle-misdirect consumers into believing that the healthy drink is bottled water. These companies have realized their losing battle in the sugary soda market in response to the increasingly health-conscious society, and consequently have turned their marketing towards bottling water. Their aim is for profit, not for health. And, they have convinced people that drinking from a bottle is the only choice, even in places where tap water is perfectly safe to drink, and healthier. I have safely drunk tap water in Turkey, Mexico, Greece, Costa Rica, Indonesia, and Brazil, just to name a few.

In many places where the tap water is perfectly safe, for example in the USA, not only travelers but also locals have been deluded into believing that tap water is unsafe by the beverage companies who profit from the drinking of bottled water. Some have even gotten the message that tap water is uncouth. Why is that? It is baffling that in restaurants, servers immediately inquire if you prefer a bottle of still or sparkling water, inflicting snobbery if you ask for tap, and the duped diner pretentiously orders a bottle.

For the first time in years, I traveled to a country where indeed the tap water is unsafe-Peru. Even so, boiling water or using a water filtration device used for backpacking can easily treat the water for safe, BPA-free consumption.

There are admirable heroes fighting for positive change in this arena: Anna Cummins and Marcus Eriksen, who cofounded 5 Gyres; Beth Terry, who took her personal challenge as an example to inspire others with My Plastic Free Life; Douglas Woodring of The Ocean Recovery Alliance; Andrew Sharpless, who heads the international advocacy organization Oceana.org; David Saiia, cofounder of Reuse Everything Institute, who strategizes community-building solutions by reusing plastic pollution; Boyan Slat, who discovered a new technology to clean up plastic pollution in our oceans, and the list continues with so many I esteem.

Often, when an individual sees only the Big problem rather than the Big solution, they feel defeated before beginning. The problem seems insurmountable, a Sisyphean effort. They may think, "What can I do to make an impact? Why should I even try?" In this issue of plastic waste, I truly only see the Big solution of which I want to be a part. I believe that even if my efforts are small in comparison, even if they are only a grain of sand on the Sahara, they will contribute to a greater outcome--a better life for all living organisms on planet Earth. I believe each one of us is empowered to be apart of this change. If each of us begins now-by refusing to consume single-use plastic--then one by one, we will make a Big difference. Soon, each grain of sand added together will become a beach refuge, in a beautiful peaceful cove, looking out onto the clean, plastic-free, great blue ocean.


As I was preparing this discourse, I wondered, what could I possibly write that hasn't already been said? Well, this is it--like a mental chain letter passed along, I humbly add my name to the list of those advocating for ending the use of single-use plastic. I encourage you to add your name to the list and pass it on.

The important thing is to do something, anything, even a small gesture. Refuse to use straws, carry your own reusable water or hot beverage bottle, tote your own reusable bag, pack a 'take home' container when you know you will be carrying home food from the grocery store deli or local restaurant, bring along reusable eating utensils when traveling--just begin. Even the smallest gesture collectively makes an impact. What I do know is that not doing anything changes nothing. I proudly do my small part to make change happen and I hope you will, too.

You may read more of Katherine's writings on plastic and other issues at www.ahhtobehumble.com