The Last Straw

2018 was a popular year for the little plastic straw. Something that seems so insignificant is popped into every single one of our drinks, whether we need it or not, without the slightest thought on its purpose or necessity. Think about it, if you ask for a glass of water, almost always it’s accompanied by a big plastic straw that we often discard before we even take our first sip. So what switched? There were viral videos of sea turtles with straws being stuck in their nostrils and people began to pay attention to the the little straw and began wondering how else straws were negatively harming our planet and what we could do.

The thing about the plastic straw is that it’s tangible. We all see its overabundant use in restaurants and bars, have used it to stir a drink for one second then tossed it to the side only the repeat the same procedure for our next drink and the drink after that, with one or two straws in each water we order in between. Why the sudden overuse of them? While they were originally created for making things a little easier to drink, in the 1930s they gained popularity when  an inventor wanted to make it easier for his daughter to drink a milkshake. From that, the straws are mass-produced by a system selling people things they don’t really need, for the most part. Consumers of course took advantage of it and now we’re left with another over-consumed product with of course, inevitable backlash. We can see the waste. On our beaches, straws are often one of the top ten items collected globally on the coastlines

It was once quoted that in the U.S. alone, 500 million straws are used EVERY DAY. That seems like an incredible amount that’s hard to picture exactly how many that truly is. Here are some figures to put it into perspective… “500 million straws could fill over 127 school buses each day, or more than 46,400 school buses every year.. 500 million straws per day is an average of 1.6 straws per person (in the US) per day. Based on this national average, each person in the US will use approximately 38,000 or more straws between the ages of 5 and 65.” While I’m not 100% that this stat is entirely accurate, it goes without saying that whatever the number is, it is high and there is something we can do about it. 

So what can we do? There are a ton of alternate options out there, here are my favorite options ranking from best to last:

  • No straw (no waste)

  • Bamboo straw (sturdy, dishwasher safe, light)

  • Metal straws (sturdy, dishwasher safe, easy to clean, not good for hot beverages)

  • Glass straws (sturdy, easy to clean, but breakable)

  • Paper straws (trendy and fun but don’t last and wasteful to produce)

    • Why the hate for paper? It’s similar to the debate between plastic and paper bags. 

    • A study done last year by Denmark’s Ministry of Environment and Food found that paper bags need to be reused at least 43 times for its per-use environmental impacts to be less than that of typical plastic bag used once. 

    • You choose between plastic, reusable and less energy to make but not biodegradable or paper, harder to reuse, a ton of energy to make but biodegradable…Truthfully, neither is “good”

There’s a few things to note when talking about banning the straws. For one, a large population of our world needs them. It’s easy for anyone who isn’t physically challenged to say “no straw”, 

“I don’t use those”, “who would need a plastic straw”, or to even look down upon people who order them. When I saw the video of the turtle, I knew I would try my best to say no when the opportunity presented itself, pretty much always, but I vowed to myself to never shame anyone who forgot to say “no straw”. Check out this article by Alden Wicker of EcoCult. She talks about the necessity to address the issue of plastic waste but to be flexible with the movement and open to people who actually need the straw. Banning something that certain people’s lives depend upon is ridiculous and we should by no means shame anyone. With my decisions I make about the sustainable movement, I hope to influence many people in my community to do whatever they can. We need to keep this in mind. 

I loved Alden’s idea about an opt-in system when talking about the straw ban movement. Instead of the waiters at restaurants automatically putting a straw in every single drink, they always need to have them on hand and you have to say when you order “I need a plastic straw”. That in itself will heavily cut down the amount wasted at each restaurant yet no one who actually needs one will (hopefully) not be looked down upon. 

While I support the movement to use less straws, some feel the movement to falls extremely short. Sure, plastic straws are overused and create a lot of waste but many argued that this movement failed to address something bigger that is creating much more waste than the straw.  The commercialized fishing net, and other plastic waste in general. Straws are an easy target because many people can do without them. I don’t question the necessity of the plastic straw movement, I think any movement is a step in the positive direction but my argument would be that it shouldn’t stop there. 

Have you ever seen a commercialized size fishing net in the middle of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch; the largest accumulation of ocean plastic? The patch is estimated to be 1.6 million square kilometers, twice the size of Texas and having 46% of the weight be taken up by fishing nets. Plastic tends to get stuck in these large gyres or patches and disintegrate with all the sun exposure and natural currents until it’s into tiny pieces, called micro plastics, that we oftentimes can’t even see. Years ago we would see occasional pieces of plastic found in sea turtles but now, with all the micro plastics forming and floating around, 100% of all sea turtles have some form of plastic they have ingested. 59% of all seabirds have plastic found in them and more than 25% of fish sampled from all around the world has plastic in it. That’s an issue that goes above and beyond the straw movement that we have to address. 

The plastic that litters our oceans are becoming much more of a problem. We can’t ignore it. Plastic debris, both micro plastics (particles less than 5mm) and macro plastics (larger than 5mm) are positively related to the mismanaged plastic waste generated by river catchments. To me, the straw movement was the catalyst for bigger change. While China for instance is the biggest producer of plastic waste, it also is now making huge efforts to avoid this. 

Other countries that are now coming into wealth like the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam, are huge contributors to the plastic waste issue. With the rise of GDP levels in many of these East Asian countries comes benefits that we often overlook like the convenience of to-go Tupperware or the ease of a plastic bag to carry your goods, better yet, drinkable water in plastic bottles! But what these places don’t think about is the infrastructure needed to deal with the waste that comes from development. If we are to address the need for waste-management infrastructure in these five countries alone, China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam, it is estimated we can significantly reduce global leakage of plastic waste into the ocean by 2025, potentially by 45%!

So where does that leave us? 

Well, theres a few things I have in mind for trying to make a change..

This article, again written by Alden Wicker of EcoCult talked about her challenge going plastic-free on her recent trip to India. There was balance achieved between being a good guest, accepting where plastic was sometimes needed but doing the best she could, remembering to bring a water bottle, utensils, avoiding straws where possible and the like. But we have to remember these developing economies are vastly different from the U.S. Oftentimes to a waiter in India, providing good service is of utmost importance to them. Figuring out what “no straw” means while trying to remember how to speak English and treat your guest well comes with a huge learning curve.

When we’re visiting these East Asian countries we have to be supportive of the new cycle of growth they’re going through and dealing with. Improving governance and rooting out corruption for example. What we can do is influence them and work with them to realize the importance of tackling change now. They are blessed because they haven’t gotten as used to the readily available use of plastic as much as the Western society has. When we travel, we can reduce our plastic intake and show them it’s possible to live life easily without it. We can stop shipping our waste to them and deal with it ourselves. We can show them certain technological advancements that are making it easier to recycle plastics and show how they can discard it. And we can influence them to stop producing plastic altogether and use another biodegradable alternative at the same time.

While most of the plastic waste is coming from East Asia, we can continue to do our best efforts at home. Things like the three R's; reduce, reuse, recycle...and remember they should be in that order. 

  • Reducing our purchases (being conscious consumers)

  • Reusing things whenever possible

  • Recycling after you attempt to reduce and reuse. 

  • Eating less fish (less fish, less need for fishing, less fishing nets. Supply, demand)

  • Avoid plastic bags

  • Saying no to straws when we can

  • Voting for change

  • Marching for change 

  • Reducing meat intake

  • Composting

  • Paying for carbon offsetting

  • Switch to reusables

    • Reusable bags, Tupperware, coffee mugs, water bottles, etc. 

While 2018 was the year of the plastic straw, let's make 2019 the year of tackling all plastic. We’re addicted to it and with fighting addiction comes arguments, fight back, disagreements and disbelief. But the facts are there. The fish have plastic in them. The turtles are eating plastic and our world will suffer from that. Humans live off the Earth and the oceans are the veins that pump life into us all. Let us tackle plastic waste, something we have so easily lived without before the 1930s, and switch to a reusable, biodegradable material that closes the loop on waste and refreshes our oceans with life and air. The Earth’s ten-year challenge brought upon devastation from pictures of deforestation, ice melting, and oceans and rivers littered with plastic waste. Let’s reverse that trend and make pictures in 2029 that we’re proud of. 

Your Sustainable Guide to Fashion Week

Living in a big fashion capital like New York, it can often be tough to stick to sustainable habits. However, once we're properly informed, avoiding fast-fashion shops like Zara and Forever21 can become quite easy. Other habits are harder to form, especially as fashion week approaches. We see celebrities and models dressed in gorgeous new outfits every day. We’re bombarded with the new "must have" trends that models wear as they strut down the runway, some available for purchase before the show even finishes... and we’re invited to parties and networking events where food is left untouched and plastic straws and cups are littered about, most of which will not be recycled. It’s an exciting time when the city comes alive and everyone shows off their best-looking selves but why is it we forget what truly matters, our duty as human beings to be more environmentally conscious? Shouldn’t our utmost priority be to make sustainable sexy? Here’s how!

Going to an event? Not sure what to wear? Try some of these options below. 

Rent the Runway

Rent the Runway is a company that lets you borrow dresses and evening wear for those special events, then return it for free as soon as you’re done! You can order in multiple sizes so you can ensure you get the right fit and don’t have to worry about dry-cleaning post wear, they’ll do all that for you!

When you rent a dress, you’re saving all the natural resources that go into manufacturing a new piece of clothing. The average woman throws away around 82 pounds of clothing per year. Renting helps reduce this significantly. [1]

We often wear that statement dress only once or twice, so why not get something fab (they have 250,000 designer pieces to choose from!), wear it once and then return it? It’s about shifting perspectives of the consumer and letting your friends and peers know it’s okay to rent something that’s already been worn and it is so much more environmentally friendly. 

Have a clothing swap

I’ve written about it before on a previous blog post but I can’t stress enough how amazing a clothing swap party is! You can do it with as little or as many people as you want, and the whole thing can be done without spending a dime. Have some extra clothes laying around that don’t get worn? Bring them (or host) a clothing swap party where everyone brings a few garments and trade away! It’s the perfect way to revamp your wardrobe and get some awesome unique pieces that your friends no longer wear. The best way to ‘shop’ sustainably, and reduce waste is to reuse! [2]

Borrow from a friend

Sometimes, the easiest and most cost effective way to complete a look is to borrow from a friend. Rather than my friend buying a fancy clutch she’d only end up using once for an upcoming wedding, I let her borrow one from me. Now I know in the future I can count on her to lend me an accessory or even a dress if I need it. We all have way too many things in our closet so why not share and save a little money for some more drinks with your girls at the bar?;)

Second-hand shopping

Here in New York, we’re lucky enough to have some truly amazing second-hand shops. The stuff is already made and reusing that is, without a doubt, the most sustainable option out there, even more so than making new clothes out of sustainable materials. You can often find some one-of-a-kind pieces that will make your outfit so much cooler than whatever Zara outfit every other person is wearing. Then, when you get stopped by a street-style photographer asking where you got your blazer, you can be that cool, off-trend person who says they got it from the second-hand store;) Often, used items are less expensive as well. Beacon’s Closet, Buffalo Exchange, and even your local Goodwill are excellent options. 

Reduce the Plastic

With a plethora of parties coming up and with that, a decent amount of drinking, why not make a pledge to yourself to #stopsucking? The Lonely Whale foundation seeks to educate people about the oceans and our impact on them. From overfishing, plastic pollution and acidification, our oceans need us to live smarter and become more aware of our actions. In the U.S. alone we use 500 million plastic straws EVERY DAY, many of which end up in the ocean. Lonely Whale has set out to combat this pollution by not using any plastic straws and encouraging everyone to join them. Paper, metal, glass and bamboo are all MUCH more sustainable options. Take the pledge to #stopsucking on single-use plastic straws and challenge your friends! Going out to a fashion week after party? Order that drink sans straw. Or, if you prefer your drinks with straws bring one with you! Read more about strawless oceans here

Your Straw offers incredible bamboo straws as an alternative. They’re the perfect size for anything from coffees to smoothies and come with a tiny brush so you can keep them clean. Purchase your own Your Straw here.

In addition to straws, try and carry a tote bag with you everywhere you go. That way, if you get some cool gift bags from shows or have to do a quick grocery shop on the way home, you can skip the plastic bag! I also always try and carry a fork and spoon with me. It’s the easiest way to reduce the single-use plastic options and is great to have on hand as I run from casting to casting all over the city.  

Take Public Transportation

New York City Fashion Week is spread out with a conflicting schedule that makes attending a few shows each day near impossible. Traffic is always a mess and people are always running late. Why not take mass transit to avoid the headache of being stuck in traffic knowing you’re not doing the environment any good? “A bus with as few as seven passengers is more fuel-efficient than the average single-occupant auto used for commuting.” [3] Sometimes the high heels are too high to navigate the subway steps and grates, so if you plan on using Uber or a taxi as your main resource try and pool with as many friends as possible. 

Living sustainably is without a doubt more difficult. But taking positive action is not only beneficial but is necessary. If we stick to our current ways by 2050 there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish. Our actions have a direct impact on our earth and we have the resources and knowledge to reduce this impact and live cleaner. Fashion is the second dirtiest industry after oil. We can make a significant impact just by shifting our consumption habits... even in small ways. So, as you get ready for fashion week try a couple of these recommendations and share some with your friends. Rather than buying the newest, latest thing, why don’t we all try and make sustainable trendy? Nothing is sexier than a cleaner, greener environment.   

Sexy, Sustainable Street Style Basics (Click the boot to see entire collection)