The Be Straw Free Campaign

"This planet is not a place that kids will inherit at some point far off in the distant future; we live here right now, we share this planet already. It's ours to play on as well as to take care of." Milo Cress

handful of multi-colored straws

Milo Cress founded the Be Straw Free campaign at the age of nine. Milo reported through his initial research and data he collected from straw manufacturers that Americans use 500 million drinking straws every day. To understand just how many straws 500 million really is, Milo indicated this would fill over 125 school buses with straws every day. That's 46,400 school buses every year!

Eco-Cycle who currently hosts and promotes the Be Straw Free campaign further calculated using Milo’s estimate that Americans use these disposable utensils at an average rate of 1.6 straws per person per day. Based on national averages, this equates to each person in the U.S. using about 38,000 straws between the ages of 5 and 65. While it is unclear if anyone has formally validated Milo's statistics, it is clear that even though straws are relatively small, that amount of waste could really add up!

Milo Cress began the Be Straw Free campaign, now facilitated by Eco-Cycle, to promote reduced straw use, and therefore reduced waste, across the U.S. Milo cites that "plastic straws are made of our dwindling oil resource, and simply by offering them instead of serving one with every drink automatically, we can reduce our consumption in half or more." In fact, 50 to 80 percent of customers choose not to take a straw when offered. Milo initiated the campaign due to concern with "our oil supply, as well as our limited space available for landfills.

The Be Straw Free campaign connects members of the food and beverage industry, businesses, schools, environmental groups, and concerned citizens, and gives them a platform to advocate for smarter straw usage and waste reduction. The goal is to reduce straw disposal across the U.S., especially in restaurants that offer straws by default.

Resuable Straws

Unfortunately, the campaign has not been without controversy. Many Americans are concerned that halting any production means a loss of jobs. Campaign sponsor Eco-Cycle combats this concern by encouraging straw manufacturers to move away from making single-use disposable products and instead switch to or include reusable straws in their production. Companies should be pushed to keep up with the times, which now demand sustainability from product start to finish.

What About Compostable Straws?

While compostable straws may seem like a smarter option, they are still disposable, and consequently are less preferable than opting to go strawless or using a reusable straw. Further, consider that the straw wrapper is not necessarily compostable thereby required disposal in a landfill. If you do use a compostable straw, though, ensure it is composted in a commercial composting facility that is capable of breaking it down. Note that straws are not accepted in recycling bins, and you must take caution when selecting appropriate disposal facilities. When in doubt as to whether your straws are truly biodegradable, look for products certified by the Biodegradable Products Institute.

When compared to other wastes, straws may seem like insignificant contributions to landfills. Often, disposing of a straw is more of an afterthought. However, creating a sustainable environment is not strictly about the objects we use or dispose of. Rather, our habits, including the way we use straws, reflect our environmental values and indicate how successful our sustainability efforts can be. Examining consumption issues from the core is key in understanding how to change for the better.

Offer First

For starters, as individuals, take the pledge to be straw free. NPS concessioners have even more power to make a difference. For example, concessioners in the food and beverage industry can implement an "offer first" policy, requiring the customer to "opt in" to using a straw rather than making straw usage the default.

Ted's Montana Grill was one of the first to sign on to the Be Straw Free campaign. Following Ted's example, the Colorado Restaurant Association implemented an "offer first" policy, and the National Restaurant Association now recognizes the "offer first" policy as an industry best practice. Xanterra Parks and Resorts launched its own "Choose to be Straw Free" program this past April, setting in motion an "offer first" trend both national park and other locations including:

  • Kingsmill Resort, Zion National Park
  • Grand Canyon Railway, Grand Canyon South Rim
  • The Grand Hotel, Grand Canyon National Park
  • Painted Desert Oasis, Petrified Forest National Park
  • Windstar Cruises, Yellowstone National Park
  • Crater Lake National Park
  • Rocky Mountain National Park
  • Mount Rushmore National Memorial
  • Furnace Creek Resort, Death Valley National Park
  • Five Ohio State Park lodges

Concessioners in the national park system are able to follow the lead of many straw-free NPS concessioners and the National Restaurant Association in making straw use a customer choice rather than a business default. Each concession operation can make a difference, and as more national parks adopt such a policy, behavior in all industries may begin to shift.

Milo's campaign started with one restaurant in Vermont. Now, establishments across Vermont, Colorado, Illinois, and Maine, along with a handful in Malaysia, Canada, and South Korea, are promoting the straw-free message. According to Milo, kids are the key: "this planet is not a place that kids will inherit at some point far off in the distant future; we live here right now, we share this planet already. It's ours to play on as well as to take care of."

Wise words and motivation to join the movement – take your straw-free pledge today!