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Make a Difference, One Straw at a Time

Not using and not distributing plastic straws may seem like a small gesture, but it has major environmental impact. Reducing plastic straws use is a fundamental step to protecting the future of the planet and everyone on it. It’s also an effective way to raise awareness, which is critical to making a long-term change.

Single-use plastic straws are handed out to restaurant guests by the millions each day. Eliminating their distribution is a critical step to reducing single-use plastics worldwide. In addition, each delivery, or lack of delivery, is an educational opportunity, and an ideal place to build awareness and create a more environmentally conscious population.

Conversations about straws can lead to larger discussions about plastic pollution; the giant garbage patch in the ocean; plastics found in fish and seabirds; microplastics and the food chain; and how to protect the earth and our health. The collaborative work of Our Last Straw based in Washing ton DC is building a framework for future efforts — local, national, and global — by the hospitality industry to influence everyone in our communities to curb our reliance on other single-use plastics (including To Go containers, plastic bottles, ingredient packaging, and beyond). As major distributors of straws, it is imperative the hospitality industry leads the charge for change working to protect our planet and everyone on it.

Americans use millions of plastic straws a day. Those straws litter our streets, lands, shorelines, and oceans. Plastic drinking straws are among the top 10 contributors to marine debris pollution. They do not biodegrade but break down into smaller microplastics that have made their way into our food chain and the deepest trenches of our oceans. The research and statistics on the impacts of plastic straws across the globe are alarming.

Single-Use Plastic Straws

  • The United States uses millions of single-use plastic straws a day.
  • Plastic straws are among the top 10 contributors to plastic marine debris across the globe.
  • Nearly 7.5 million plastic straws were found on U.S. shorelines during a five-year cleanup research project.
  • Extrapolated globally, that is 437 million to 8.3 billion plastic straws on the world’s coastlines.
  • Currently, plastic straws make up about 99% of the $3 billion global drinking-straw market.
  • Most recycling machines aren’t capable of recycling straws, given their size.


  • Only 9% of plastics are recycled. It has remained at 9% since 2012 in spite of increased recycling efforts and education.
  • Approximately 8.8 million tons of plastic pollution flows into the oceans each year, an amount expected to double by 2025.
  • Estimates for how long plastic endures range from 450 years to forever.
  • The rate of plastics production growth has increased 620% since 1975.
  • Nearly half of the plastic produced is for single-use.
  • Plastics can be found in every marine habitat on Earth, from polar ice to the deepest trenches of the ocean.
  • By 2050, plastic trash will outweigh fish.
  • Plastics do not biodegrade but break down into smaller pieces of microplastic that has made its way into our ground water and our food supply.
America’s love and near obsession with plastic straws did not begin until the late 1960s, as a byproduct of the growth of the fast food industry. It was a logical need: To Go cups with covers and straws. What wasn’t logical was its transfer back into the sit-down restaurant industry.

Centuries ago, straws were made of gold. Then, they were straw, a stalk of rye grass to be exact. In 1885, Marvin C. Stone didn’t like the taste or residue the rye straw left in his mint julep. He experimented with various ways to create an alternative straw by wrapping strips of paper and glue around a pencil, and patented his straw in 1888. His factory, the Stone Paper Tube Company, was established right in our nation’s capital, in Northeast DC, in the still-standing Stone Straw Building.

Yet straw use continued to grow and expand across the hospitality industry. Currently, plastic straws make up about 99% of the $3 billion global drinking-straw market. Most straws are single-use plastic that is not biodegradable.

Many drinks don’t actually need straws. Yet, if you take a seat in most restaurants, you will be given a straw with every beverage served, including water.

As major dispensers of straws, the hospitality industry can significantly reduce plastic straw pollution, and many restaurants and hotels across the world have already begun to make changes, using paper straws or, not providing straws at all.The hospitality industry holds the power to dramatically reduce plastic straw pollution by saying NO to what has become a nationwide custom: The automatic plastic straw in your drink, even your water glass.

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