In 2011, when he was only 9 years old, Milo Cress started to convince restaurants to stop automatically bringing a straw with every drink. His project, Be Straw Free, not only focuses on restaurants but also motivates consumers to order their drinks without a straw whenever they don’t want or need to use one. Straws are items that in most cases are not needed, so not serving them is not only a cost saver for restaurants, but it also made customers more aware of plastic they use and eventually throw away. Cress talked to restaurants, politicians and peers and his idea started gained attention from the press. He got invited to speak at conferences, organizations, schools, and met political and community leaders across the US and around the world.
“This planet’s not a place that kids will inherit at some point, far off in the distant future. We live here right now, and we share this planet already.”
Cress is not in favor of a total ban of plastic straws though. He is an advocate of the “offer first” (upon request) policy. “The offer-first policy is where a server comes up to your table, takes your order for a drink and asks whether you’d like a straw with your drink,” says Cress, “And just by doing that, a restaurant can actually cut down on their straw use by 50-80%, which is really exciting because you’re not only putting the power of making a choice into the hands of the customer, but you’re also making an environmentally responsible step along the way.” This approach makes it possible for people who really need straws to be able to drink a drink independently, like people with disabilities, to access them with ease.
Cress is also famous for his estimate of 500 million straws used per day in the USA. He came to this number by calling manufacturers of plastic straws and asking them what they estimated to be the straw market in the United States per day. He stuck to 500 because it was around the middle of what they were saying. But people started to criticize this number saying it is too high. "Why I use this statistic is because it illustrates that we use too many straws," he said. "I think if it were another number, it still illustrates the fact that there is room for reduction. That’s really my message."
Some also argue that there are bigger issues than plastic straws. But think again: there are an estimated 7.5 million plastic straws on America’s shorelines, which has led scientists to believe there could be 437 million to 8.3 billion (!) plastic straws on coastlines worldwide. “Straws are one of top five items found in beach cleanup, so they are still a really big issue,” said Johnson, a marine biologist and founder of Ocean Collectiv, an organization that works for sustainability. In the oceans they pose a threat to marine life, that mistake them for food. And they never really disappear, they break down into tiny pieces (microplastics) that are ingested by the tiniest creatures living in the oceans.
Also, by making people aware of their plastic straw use, its a great way to start a conversation about single use plastics. Kara Lavender Law, research professor of oceanography at the Sea Education Association, said the straw free movement serves as a “public service announcement” for environmental issues. And it is so easy to reduce your use of plastic straws, since most of us candors without them. If you really like to drink your drink with a straw, use a reusable one. There are straws made of bamboo, stainless steel and glass. Refuse, reduce, reuse!