A simple plastic straw may not seem like a big deal until you understand just how dangerous one can be. Plastic straws aren’t just bad for the environment because they fill up landfills with waste. Plastic straws are also light enough and sharp enough that they can permanently injure or even kill animals in the wild. Here are a few of the animals that are most at risk from plastic straws today.
1. Sea Birds
Nearly all types of sea birds are susceptible to plastic straws, which they may eat whole. Plastic straws often have the remainders of food and drink on them — making them an attractive proposition for a bird or other scavenger. They may also glint in the ocean water as though they are fish.
Sea birds frequently get straws stuck in their throat, choking on them. Even if a sea bird manages to successfully eat the plastic, it can then get stuck inside of their digestive track. Once stuck, it will either block the bird’s digestive track until it dies, or slowly starve the bird of important nutrients and make it more difficult for the bird to fly.
2. Sea Turtles
Often considered the poster child for plastic straw abstinence, sea turtles are one of the animals most regularly impacted by plastic straws. Like birds, sea turtles can potentially swallow and choke on plastic straws. However, there’s another danger: plastic straws can also become wedged in their breathing passages.
Plastic straws are narrow enough that they easily fit into a turtle’s nasal passages. Once there, the turtle is unable to take it out. Since straws are so lightweight, they move freely in the water and can thus easily be encountered by animals swimming in it. A turtle with a plastic straw lodged in its nasal passage may not be able to properly breathe, may breathe in water, and may eventually succumb to infection.
As you can see, one of the major problems is that animals tend to eat plastics; after all, they have evolved to assume many items around them are both organic and edible. Fish are no exception. Large fish have been caught with stomachs absolutely full of non-digested plastic. Because plastic isn’t digestible, it accumulates within an animal’s gut, reducing the amount of space they have for nutrients and potentially impacting their ability to swim and their ability to control their own bouyancy.
Many whales open their mouth to feed on microscopic creatures inside of the ocean water. The ocean water is filtered and then released. Unfortunately, plastic straws are small enough that they can also be caught and swallowed by whales, which means they, too, will eventually interfere with the whale’s ability to eat and to digest. Both whales and dolphins can be highly susceptible to plastic in this way — but whales tend to bring in large volumes of plastic because of the way they feed.
It’s estimated that eventually there could be a third as much plastic in the ocean as there are fish. Fish, sea mammals, and sea birds are all going to continue eating plastics as long as plastics are readily available in the ocean water. As plastic can accumulate nearly indefinitely — due to the long time it takes for plastics to degrade — it’s necessary to take action now to avoid an ecological disaster. One way you can make a difference is by switching to paper straws.
Paper straws degrade quickly in any environment, last as long as six hours in a drink, and have special coatings to avoid imparting any flavor to a drink. For more information about the benefits of switching to paper straws — as well as new and important environmental news — follow FarfromBoring Hospitality.