A small crowd gathered around a dirty, 2-liter bottle filled to the brim with shiny plastic objects at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The items were found inside the stomach of a dead Laysan albatross, a white seabird native to the North Pacific who mistook them for shrimp and other crustaceans, explained a staff member. Seeing this, Mountain View resident Bobbi Emel Wilmoth said she knew that something needed to change.
The idea behind a Strawless September in Mountain View came into fruition shortly thereafter. Recently, major companies including Starbucks, Disney, American Airlines and Hyatt announced that they will be reducing or eliminating their plastic straw usage in the near future.
Having caught wind of various movements throughout the nation, including Strawless In Seattle, Wilmoth decided to "go ahead and take the plunge," asking Castro Street restaurants to stop providing straws to customers during the month of September.
"My hope is that customers and restaurant staff will be more aware about the problems of single-use plastic straws and be reminded to say, 'No straw' when they order a beverage at a restaurant and/or carry an alternative, such as a stainless steel straw, a bamboo straw, a glass straw, or silicone straw," said Wilmoth.
Several local eateries agreed to take part in the campaign initially: Olympus Caffe & Bakery, Ephesus Mediterranean Cuisine, Red Rock Coffee, Doppio Zero, Oren's Hummus and 1 Oz. Coffee.
Americans use about 500 million straws every day; because plastics are not biodegradable, one plastic straw can take up to 200 years to degrade, and even then, the straw is not completely broken down. Straws are also among the top 10 items found in beach cleanups around the world.
"Even (if) it was only the restaurants on Castro Street, I thought it could really help increase community awareness on a local level about the problem with single-use plastic straws," said Wilmoth.
There are concerns about the impact of a plastic straw ban on the disabled population. Those with physical challenges may need flexible straws to drink beverages, and most straws made of alternative materials don't meet this requirement. "While we want to eliminate the mass use of plastic single-use straws, I actually encourage restaurant owners to keep at least one box of plastic flexible straws for their customers with special needs," Wilmoth said.
Wilmoth said she encourages residents to stay away from compostable straws because they are not marine biodegradable, meaning that if they reach the ocean, they will not break down.
In the meantime, Wilmoth credits the idea behind the Mountain View campaign to the short presentation that she happened to witness while in Monterey. "That demonstration changed my life," she said. "If we could save even one ocean creature from a painful death or painful experience ... the campaign will be worth it."
More information about Mountain View's Strawless September can be found at mvstrawlessseptember.org.