Written By: Tanya McNab
I’m an extreme creature of habit. In every part of my life from my work to my wardrobe, my diet to my travel habits, I follow an unvarying routine.
Recently, I’ve taken a keen interest in learning more about conservation efforts globally but specifically regarding single-use plastics since Belize is on the path to achieving this goal later in 2019. (High-five Belize!) I think we can all agree each of us could do better in our personal and professional lives to be more environmentally responsible, by switching some of our day-in/day-out routines and habits. To make a long story short, what I have realized is, we, as humans … just simply don’t want to break our habits.
Old habits are hard to break and new habits are hard to form because the behavioral patterns which humans repeat become imprinted in our minds. Most of our bad habits have just become nearly or completely involuntary, a settled tendency. It is however, possible to form new habits through repetition AND the right attitude - it’s all in our mind!
Caribbean countries depend more on coastal and marine environments than any other region on Earth. Its coral reefs, beaches, and fisheries serve as an economic engine. The livelihood of so many of us depend on it, yet we seldom make a conscious effort to take care of it. The scale of plastic pollution in our oceans is truly staggering. An estimated 10+ million tons of plastic enters the oceans every year — the equivalent of emptying a garbage truck filled with plastic into the oceans every minute.
A straw might seem like a trivial place to start. When I’m in Belize City, stopping at the corner store to grab a drink before going to the office is part of my unvarying routine; it’s a must even if I am running late. Four months ago, I despised using a paper straw - it felt weird in my mouth, the thickness was a little different, it wasn’t what I am used to, but fast forward to today and I don’t even notice a difference anymore. As a culture, we have all become accustomed to using a straw. I personally always choose a straw if I have the option. I use (at least one) everyday - I think its the most hygienic way to drink anything out a bottle or can, now I am just sure to use a paper straw and not a plastic one!
The bad news about the plastic straw is that you take 10 minutes to enjoy your drink, but it takes 300+ years to disappear. Most straws end up in the world’s oceans, where they land on shorelines and endanger wildlife. They can easily end up being mistaken for food by marine animals which, when swallowed, can cause serious injury or death.
The GOOD news is, there’s no need to give it up! You just have to use an appropriate alternative and with all things considered, it’s a small price to pay and an easy habit to crack!
Below are 5 alternatives to using a plastic straw -
1.) Bamboo Straw – Comes in one standard size and is reusable for years, also naturally biodegradable.
2.) Metal Straw – Great for personal use, it’s very durable — most even come with a carrying case so you can always have it on the go.
3.) Paper Straw - For a disposable straw, paper is your best bet. An excellent alternative for businesses who need to serve disposable straws. An even better way is to offer straws in your establishment upon request! Paper straws are also available in multiple colors, patterns and even customizable.
4.) Reusable cup w/ a pop-up straw or built-in lock top – A trendy and fashionable alternative for both hot and cold beverages and is especially useful at home and between travel and work.
5.) PLA and Bio Plastics Straws - Produced in a way that provides less pollution to the environment and is definitely an option if you have a commercial composting facility within your area.
There has been much discussion around Polylactic Acid (PLA) and Bio Plastics - a type of biodegradable plastic derived from biological substances rather than from petroleum but using renewable resources such as corn starch or sugarcane, as an alternative source. Though they are produced in a way that provides less pollution to the environment, they are not a viable option in countries such as Belize or other Caribbean islands where composting facilities do not exist. Be sure to find the nearest composting facility in your area before considering this as an option because if these plastics are not composted in a commercial facility, they act exactly like regular plastics in our waters.
If you’re wondering how I became so familiar with this … 6 months ago my husband Michael met David Rhodes, Global Business Director for Aardvark Paper Straws (aardvarkstraws.com), a leading US manufacturer of marine degradable paper straws. Among many other reasons, I was immediately attracted to the colorful designs, and the ability to brand these straws made it an immediate marketing and promotional tool for my clients. From there spiraled the on-going discussion of how we can work towards being plastic free - one sip at a time! And just to be clear … these aren’t your average paper straws, (yes, we know a lot of them suck - pun intended!) but these straws are made 6x stronger than any other paper straw on the market. They last up to 4 hours in a drink, they are naturally marine degradable, which means they need no special conditions to breakdown in oceans, lakes and rivers; and they are produced using paper from FSC certified forests in the United States so they don’t change the taste of your drink and the colors don’t run off the straw — ever!
Today, Green Light Ltd., a Belizean based company, is the distributor for Aardvark Paper Straws in Belize, Quintana Roo & The Yucatan and The Cayman Islands. Green Light is on track to begin manufacturing paper straws in Belize by January 2020. Together with the support of The Getch Foundation (www.getch.org) we’ll be launching a Caribbean-wide campaign called #plasticfreereefs on August 28th, 2019. You can learn more about this initiative at www.plasticfreereefs.com or follow us @plasticfreereefs on Facebook and Instagram.
We’ve made conservation and the protection of Belize’s resources our business and now it’s time for you to do the same. Make it your business to get informed and learn how you can use greener alternatives - your environment will thank you!