500 Million of Them a Day in the U.S. Alone are Siphoning the Life Out of the Planet
That little plastic straw seems innocuous enough. But it’s not.
In the U.S. alone, we use 500 million of them a day and most of them end up in landfills, on the ground or in our waterways. Laid end-to-end, straws used in the United States alone in one day would circle the planet more than two-and-a-half times.
Consider that these little conveniences are made from oil, a nonrenewable resource. Energy is used to extract the oil and manufacture the straws. Gas runs the trucks that deliver straws to consumers. That doesn’t even take into account the packaging around straws.
Straws are among the most common plastic debris found during coastal cleanups. Sadly, marine animals and birds also ingest many of them, enabling the toxicity to travel up the food chain. Not innocuous at all.
And when we think about it, not necessary, either. Most of us do not need to sip our beverages through a tube, which is why organizations such as the National Park Service and its concessioners, beginning with Xanterra Parks & Resorts, have made a commitment to reduce straw consumption. Xanterra runs the concessions and lodges in Yellowstone, at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, Zion, Glacier, Rocky Mountain National Park, Mount Rushmore, as well as owning and operating other brands including Windstar Cruises and The Grand Canyon Railway.
It all started in 2011 with Milo Cress, then a 9-year-old boy in Boulder, Colo., who realized the negative environmental impact of straws and began contacting businesses to stop the practice of automatically handing them out. Milo’s “Be Straw Free” campaign is now facilitated by Eco-Cycle and has been embraced by restaurants, schools, environmental groups, and concerned citizens.
It also caught the attention of Catherine Greener, vice president of sustainability of Xanterra Parks & Resorts. “I reached out to Milo. I read about him through his work with Eco-Cycle,” she says. “His work with Ted’s Montana Grill, the first restaurant to implement the program, inspired me and I knew it was right for Xanterra and our stewardship as well as our solid-waste goals.”
Xanterra launched its own “Choose To Be Straw-Free” initiative, implementing an “offer first” policy at some of its national park restaurants. All of Xanterra’s national park concessions in Crater Lake, Death Valley, Glacier, Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore, Rocky Mountain, Yellowstone, and Zion now participate, and the practice is a Xanterra corporate initiative and best practice. It meshes nicely with Xanterra’s longtime environmental ethic and commitment to a “softer footprint,” which the company describes as “providing experiences for our guests and employees while protecting the environment and benefiting the places and communities where we operate.”
From one boy’s passion to a nationwide effort, the straw-free movement is here to stay. While it’s difficult to measure exactly how much straw waste has been reduced because the calculations must come from multiple departments and sources, it’s irrefutable that the concept has grown exponentially.
The National Park Service and the National Restaurant Association, among others, embrace it as a food and beverage industry best practice. Greener says Xanterra’s “Choose to be Straw Free” program is “now embedded into our larger Environmental Management System,” which will be updated this year.
“This initiative is part of our program to significantly reduce our solid waste that goes into landfills. There will be other activities that will build on the success of this initiative that will decrease our waste,” she says.
The best news is that as consumers, in the national parks and out of them, we can all be part of it.
To start, we can just say no to straws. If we really want or need one, we can choose reusable straws and carry them with us. We can also pay attention to sustainability initiatives in our national parks and communities and support them by taking the actions required. In the end, it comes down to mindfulness.
“It’s important that we be conscious of our decisions,” Greener says, “including the smallest ones, like ‘Do I really need this straw?’ We have to be conscious of the impact those decisions have on our beautiful places on Earth. We all can have a softer footprint on the places that we love.”
Yes, we can.
To learn more about Xanterra’s commitment to sustainability, visit xanterra.com/sustainability.
For more travel experiences available from Xanterra Parks & Resorts and its affiliated properties, visit xanterra.com/explore.