©PHANUWATN/DREAMSTIME.COM 

STANDARDS

NGSS: Core Idea: ESS3.C    

CCSS: Reading Informational Text: 1    

TEKS: 6.3D, 7.3D, 8.3D, E.3B


The Final Straw?

Discover why one teen is on a mission to get rid of plastic drinking straws

ESSENTIAL QUESTION: How might discarded straws have a negative impact on the environment?

When Milo Cress was 9 years old, he noticed something troubling in his hometown of Burlington, Vermont. Restaurants there often served drinks with plastic straws that weren’t requested—or even needed. Milo saw a lot of straws go straight into the trash without being used. “It seemed like a huge waste,” he says.

People in the U.S. go through more than 150 million plastic straws every day. Straws are too flimsy for recycling machines to sort, so they typically wind up in the trash. And they’re so lightweight, the wind can blow discarded straws into streets and sewers. Many eventually end up in rivers and oceans.

When Milo Cress was 9 years old, he saw something that concerned him. Restaurants in his hometown of Burlington, Vermont, often served drinks with plastic straws. But they did this even when people didn’t ask for or need straws. Milo saw a lot of new straws go straight into the trash. “It seemed like a huge waste,” he says.

People in the U.S. go through more than 150 million plastic straws every day. Straws are too flimsy for recycling machines to sort. So they usually end up in the trash. They’re also very light, so wind can blow unwanted straws into streets and sewers. Many end up in rivers and oceans.

COURTESY OF MILO CRESS

TEEN HERO: Milo Cress persuaded businesses to reduce waste.

In 2011, Milo started a nationwide campaign called “Be Straw Free” to encourage restaurants to stop automatically providing straws. Business owners who signed on to the campaign pledged to give straws only to customers who asked for them.

Milo, now 16, is part of a growing anti-straw movement. Campaigns like his have been gaining momentum around the globe. Groups like “Straw Wars” in London, England, and “The Last Plastic Straw” in California encourage people and businesses to go straw-free. And their efforts seem to be working.

In 2011, Milo started a nationwide campaign called “Be Straw Free.” He asked restaurants to stop giving everyone straws. Business owners signed on to the campaign. They promised to give straws only when customers asked for them.

Milo is now 16. He’s part of a growing anti-straw movement. Campaigns like his have been gaining steam around the globe. Some examples are “Straw Wars” in London, England, and “The Last Plastic Straw” in California. These groups ask people and businesses to go straw-free. And their efforts seem to be working.

PLASTIC PROBLEM

Most straws are made of plastic, the same material used for disposable bags, bottles, and cups. Plastic is inexpensive, water-resistant, lightweight, and strong. These properties make it useful—but also harmful to the environment.

“Plastic is a great material for items that we want to last for a long time,” says Kara Lavender Law, an ocean scientist at the Sea Education Association in Massachusetts. “But items like straws are used one time, become trash in a matter of minutes, and can stick around forever.”

Unlike paper, plastic doesn’t completely biodegrade, or naturally break down in the environment. Instead, the material crumbles into fragments called microplastics. Scientists believe that these tiny pieces may stay in the environment for thousands of years.

Though straws account for only a fraction of the estimated 8 million tons of plastic waste that washes into the ocean each year, they cause big problems for ocean animals. Scientists have found plastic straws wedged in the nostrils of sea turtles and lodged in the stomachs of seabirds and fish that have mistaken the straws for food.

Most straws are made of plastic. That’s the same material used for disposable bags, bottles, and cups. Plastic is cheap, water-resistant, light, and strong. These features make it useful but also harmful to the environment.

“Plastic is a great material for items that we want to last for a long time,” says Kara Lavender Law. She’s an ocean scientist at the Sea Education Association in Massachusetts. “But items like straws are used one time, become trash in a matter of minutes, and can stick around forever.”

Paper naturally breaks down in the environment. But plastic doesn’t completely biodegrade. Instead, it crumbles into pieces called microplastics. Scientists think these tiny pieces may stay in the environment for thousands of years.

About 8 million tons of plastic waste gets washed into the ocean each year. Straws make up only a fraction of that, but they cause big problems for ocean animals. Scientists have found plastic straws stuck in the noses of sea turtles. Sometimes seabirds and fish think straws are food. Then the straws get trapped in their stomachs.

MAKING A DIFFERENCE

Milo’s campaign has persuaded dozens of businesses to stop routinely giving out straws. And globally, about 1,800 restaurants, schools, and organizations have promised to use fewer plastic straws or none at all. For example, the fast-food chain McDonald’s switched to paper straws at all of its locations in the United Kingdom this past May.

Many cities, too, have passed laws to help tackle the plastic straw problem. Fort Myers, Florida, for example, has been straw-free since February. And as of this July, businesses in Seattle, Washington, may only offer straws made of recyclable paper or reusable metal. The movement has even gained traction at the national level. And its scope has broadened to include other types of single-use plastics, which are used just once before being thrown away (see Single-Use-Plastic Bans).

But there’s no need to wait for a ban to start protecting the planet, says Milo. Kids and adults can help by simply ordering their drinks without a straw. “If we can tackle something as daunting as straw waste, imagine what else we can achieve,” he says.

Milo’s campaign has convinced dozens of businesses to stop giving out straws to everyone. And around the world, about 1,800 restaurants, schools, and organizations have signed on. They’ve promised to use fewer plastic straws or none at all. For example, the fast-food chain McDonald’s made a change last May. It switched to paper straws at all of its locations in the United Kingdom.

Many cities have also passed laws to help fight the plastic straw problem. For example, Fort Myers, Florida, has been straw-free since February. And starting this July, businesses in Seattle, Washington, may only offer straws made of recyclable paper or reusable metal. The movement has even gained power at the national level. And it now includes other types of single-use plastics. These plastic items are used just once before being thrown away (see Single-Use-Plastic Bans).

But you don’t have to wait for a ban to start protecting the planet, says Milo. Kids and adults can do something simple to help. Just order drinks without a straw. “If we can tackle something as daunting as straw waste, imagine what else we can achieve,” he says. 

CORE QUESTION: Cite two properties of plastics that make them useful to people but bad for the environment.

Back to top
videos (1)
Skills Sheets (4)
Skills Sheets (4)
Skills Sheets (4)
Skills Sheets (4)
Lesson Plan (2)
Lesson Plan (2)
Read Aloud