When I had chicken pox, measles or the all-too-frequent severe sore throat, I had to stay home from school. My cradle was a double bed with four tall posts. I had so much fun cutting out paper dolls and hanging their fancy clothes on the lines I strung from one post to another. To soothe my aching body, Ma fixed cool drinks over ice with a clear glass straw. These straws lasted forever. Skipping ahead 50 years, while I was rummaging through a warehouse of medical supplies to take to an orphanage in Kenya, I had a eureka moment: I found a glass straw! I was delighted to find this obsolete and long-forgotten source of comfort.
The first use of straws is credited to the Sumerians who made them from gold!
Fast forward to the modern-day drinking straw invented in 1888, made of paper, 8½ inches long, and just wide enough to prevent citrus seeds from getting caught in the barrel. The paper straw machine was invented in 1906, allowing mass production of straws — by a cigarette factory of all places. At that time, straws were used to prevent our contacting diseases from unsanitary cups and glasses.
Due to affordability and durability, plastic became the modern straw’s chosen material. McDonalds contributed to the plastic straw’s trendiness when it offered the extra wide drinking straw. Today, it is routine to get a plastic straw with your beverage, whether you want it or not. Straws are expected with every drink. Single use and thrown away, these straws, are then seen in storm drains, curbsides, beaches, oceans and inside the stomachs of land and sea creatures. Five hundred million straws are used and disposed of daily in the USA. Fundamentally, they are litter!
Think of the life of a straw (cradle to grave), the manufacturing of the plastic, its fashioning, packaging, shipping, distribution, use and disposal — and all that for a moment of minimal ‘pleasure’. Think of the consequences of using this throwaway product.
In 2011, a 9 year-old Vermont boy started the ‘Be Straw Free’ movement. Since then he has been around the world encouraging other states and countries to act and be part of the Be Straw Free movement. In addition, the Ocean Conservancy has created a successful “Skip the Straw” drive.
So what does this have to do with the Rogue Valley? We no longer have the ‘Plastics Round Up’ so you know our landfill is running over with single-use plastics. We can ask our favorite restaurants to stop giving straws automatically. We can request ‘no straw please’ when we purchase our beverage of choice, whether it be an iced coffee, a Coke or a Charlie Chaplin. If you must have a straw, you can find metal straws or glass straws that come with designs and colors; these can be used repeatedly.
I cannot recapture the joy of playing with paper dolls, the four-poster has long gone, and I get few colds these days, but I still like the sensation of cold liquid entering my mouth through my glass straw — and I like being part of the Straws Upon Request campaign since it reduces my contribution to the landfill. Some of our local restaurants already have a Water Upon Request policy (like the Wild Goose). Ashland could have a Straw Upon Request policy-and then offer biodegradable paper straws. The Mayor and City Council could join the national Skip the Straw Day and have the City initiate measures to eliminate the plastic straw. Plastic straws can go the way of the dinosaur and the Ashland plastic bag.
— Louise Shawkat lives in Ashland.