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Straws a fraction of plastic pollution

What percentage of single-use plastic straws from restaurants in Oregon end up in the ocean? I realize there probably isn’t much data on this, but is there an educated estimate?

— L.B., via email

We weren’t able to track down any recent plastic straw pollution statistics broken down by state, but according to a National Geographic story from earlier this year, drinking straws make up less than a quarter of a percent of the eight million tons of plastic pollution that flows into the ocean each year.

National Geographic cited a scientific journal that estimated there could be 8.3 billion straws polluting beaches worldwide, while the nonprofit Environment Oregon said there’s a mound of roughly 100 million tons of plastic in the Pacific Ocean about 1,000 miles from the West Coast. That mound includes litter from Oregon, California, Washington — not to mention the United States’ neighbors to the north and south.

So why did the Oregon House of Representatives vote to ban restaurants from offering straws earlier this month? The short answer is that straw bans are growing in popularity.

It started with a 2015 video of biologists removing a plastic straw from a sea turtle’s nostril that went viral, according to an Oregon Public Broadcasting report earlier this year, and began to mobilize folks concerned about wildlife.

By the summer of 2018, Seattle became the largest U.S. city to ban drinking straws made of plastic, while businesses such as Alaska Airlines and Starbucks rolled out plans to phase out the tubes. Outside the good ‘ol US of A, McDonald’s rolled out plans to eliminate straws in the United Kingdom and Ireland.

Another reason straw bans are growing more common is that the single-use plastic conveniences are a fairly easy sacrifice, according to National Geographic. Starbucks redesigned the lid for its cold drinks for folks on the go.

Besides, a quarter of a percent of 8 billion tons is 20,000 tons — that’s quite a few straws.

Send questions to “Since You Asked,” Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@rosebudmedia.com. We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.