Made of polystyrene, polypropylene, and polyethylene, straws contribute greatly to the epidemic of plastic pollution in our oceans.
It is time now to focus on a plastic item that has been highly overlooked, the plastic straw.
It typically takes just 14 pieces of plastic to kill a turtle
We know there is a lot of plastic in the ocean, and that turtles (and other endangered species) are eating it. It is not uncommon to find stranded dead turtles with guts full of plastic.
But we weren’t really sure whether plastic eaten by turtles actually kills them, or if they just happen to have plastic inside them when they die. Another way to look at it would be to ask: how much is too much plastic for turtles?
This is a really important question. Just because there’s a lot of plastic in the ocean, we can’t necessarily presume that animals are dying from eating it. Even if a few animals do, that doesn’t mean that every animal that eats plastic is going to die. If we can estimate how much plastic it takes to kill a turtle, we can start to answer the question of exactly how turtle populations are affected by eating plastic debris.
How Straws Affect Animals and Ecosystems
Considering more than 90 percent of all trash floating in the world’s oceans is plastic, it’s logical that plastic accounts for the most harmful man-made items in the ocean. But what we often forget is that animals are ingesting this plastic waste every day, especially straws.
Many marine biologists, photographers, and sea lovers have captured the impact of single-use plastic on animals. As the plastic travels into and around the ocean, it breaks into tiny pieces that are then easily ingested by marine life. These are the top animals affected by single-use straws in the ocean:
Millions of seabirds are killed from the effects of plastic pollution every year. One of the most common plastic items ingested by seabirds are plastic straws from juice boxes. The plastic reduces the storage volume of their stomachs, ultimately causing them to starve. It’s estimated that 90 percent of all seabirds have eaten pieces of plastic. That number is predicted to increase to 99 percent by 2050.
Fish ingest 12,000 to 24,000 tons of plastic each year in the North Pacific alone. This causes intestinal injury, death, and also transfers plastic up the food chain to bigger fish and marine mammals. A recent study found that a quarter of fish at markets in California contained plastic in their guts, mostly in the form of plastic microfibers. This plastic leaches harmful toxins, including BPA, into their bodies and ultimately into us through our dinner plates.
Sea turtles also mistake floating plastic items for food. While plastic bags are the most commonly ingested item found in turtles, straws are a close second. About a year ago, two researchers posted an 8-minute video of what happened when a turtle met a straw and the impact it had on the animal. Since some sea turtle species are critically endangered, this viral story highlighted the important issue of single-use straw waste.
Switching the straw may seem small on the individual level, but the impact it can have on the environment and animals is huge.