My Outlook

More than grasping at straws

We were sitting poolside waiting to be called for our turn to swim with the dolphins. It was an unexpected bonus on what was itself an unexpected vacation. My husband had expressed a desire for years to swim with dolphins but any time we were in a location where it was an option we didn't have the time to do it, but on this day it was about to happen.

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Before we entered the pool we were taken through a display on the health of our oceans. It wasn't unexpected--nor was it unwelcome. We all care about our oceans, right? So of course our interest in dolphins meant we were a willing audience to talk to about protecting our oceans. 

There was nothing in the information we hadn't heard many times before--but what I appreciated was that no company, corporation or product was portrayed as the villain, unlike so much of the contempt on display when discussing the impact of particular products. It's striking how quickly some jump on board an idea based on what one group or movement says, but won't take into consideration what others might have to add. Such is the zealousness with which we've approached the plastic straw. Straws started out as an innovation by Sumerians--a gold tube inlaid with precious stones no less--to avoid the solid byproducts of fermentation. Versions made of stalks of grass and then paper followed and evolved (or devolved as some would argue) into the plastic type used everyday. The nature of the single-use product means that millions of straws are ending up in our landfills and oceans and there has been a vigorous effort, particularly over the last decade, to change this. 

There's no doubt they are everywhere and each one typically gets used for just a few minutes before being discarded. What used to be seen as an item of convenience is now burdensome. Harmful.

I like straws, especially when I have a chocolate milkshake. When someone in the house isn't feeling well you can be sure we break out the "bendy" straws, which I learned is actually called an articulated straw (yet somehow I can't imagine my husband or kids having moaned for "a glass of apple juice and an articulated straw, please"). And isn't the best part of any juice box poking that little straw through the foil? But now, more and more jurisdictions are implementing ordinances calling for bans of the item. It became law in Seattle 32 days ago. Vancouver's ban begins in 2019. Some fast food and coffee chains will phase them out over the next 4-16 months. A major hotel chain will provide them by request only, and a cruise line will offer paper straws, but by request only. But to what effect? Of the trash being cleaned up on our shores, straws are 7th on the list. Globally, straws account for 0.03% of that garbage. A concern to be sure, but at 0.03% of the problem how has it dominated so much of the conversation and activism?

When we are confronted by issues of an overwhelming breadth, it can be motivational to grab hold of a small practice to help the situation. What can we do about worldwide hunger? Purchase the fundraising song? Buy the t-shirt? Sure. But feeding our brothers and sisters should compel us to do more. Too much garbage in our oceans? While saying no to straws might make us feel good about our efforts, we are going to have to re-think how we live. Of course every little bit helps, but if we really want to do something for the oceans it needs to be part of an overall approach to how we live. At the core of it is…stewardship. Taking care of what we have been given and being responsible for all we have.

I felt really good about the knowledge that the resort we were staying at did not hand out straws, yet didn't blink an eye when our dolphin photo package was given to us in a plastic bag. Seriously? If we take to heart our jobs as stewards of our stuff, our surroundings, and nature's beauty under our care, we would be impacted not by a bandwagon effect but by trying to be the best caretaker we can of our resources and each other. That's my outlook.


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