Every year, June 8 provides a unique opportunity to honor, help protect, and conserve the world’s oceans. Though World Oceans Day is just 24 hours, we’re hopeful that messages shared by organizations like The Ocean Project and Shedd Aquarium will resonate for the remaining 8,760 hours of the year.
On this year’s World Oceans Day, Shedd Aquarium set out to teach our Chicagoland community and our visitors about the dire threat of plastic pollution in our oceans. As roughly 19 billion pounds of plastic wind up in our oceans annually, we wanted to give them a way to make a difference. Thus, we created a challenge this year to provide our inland city with a simple, single action-item to protect our oceans, even though they might seem far away. We asked local restaurants to stop providing single-use plastic straws to their customers for one day – June 8. We asked them to Shedd the Straw.
You might ask, “how would that help” or “why straws,” to which we would answer with two simple, yet powerful facts. First, 500 million single-use plastic straws are used each day in the United States. And second, because plastic straws don’t biodegrade and are nearly impossible to recycle, it’s likely that every straw ever used still exists on our planet, although they may have broken down into smaller pieces of plastic. And since the Great Lakes are connected to the oceans through the Mississippi and St. Lawrence Rivers, the plastic and other pollution that ends up in Chicago’s waterways can unfortunately make their way into the oceans. If we’re able to convince restaurants in our country to stop handing out straws like they’re candy, we could dramatically reduce the number of straws used daily and, as a result, reduce the overall amount of plastic ending up in our oceans each year.
On World Oceans Day, through our grassroots efforts, 20 Chicago-area restaurants committed to Shedd the Straw, opting to not serve disposable plastic straws with drinks. Based on numbers provided by the restaurants, that meant more than 10,000 straws were not used on World Oceans Day in Chicago.
At the aquarium and online, we celebrated these restaurants’ commitments. We also took the initiative one step further and asked individuals to make their own commitments to Shedd the Straw. Wearing Shedd the Straw t-shirts, Shedd staff engaged visitors waiting in line to get into the aquarium with a selfie frame, and encouraging them to post on social media why they are choosing to #SheddtheStraw. Inside our doors, we integrated straw-related trivia questions into regularly scheduled programming and created pop-up activity stations to illustrate the problems with plastic pollution. As more than 126 social media users shared about #SheddtheStraw, many restaurants also heard positive feedback from their customers about their commitment. That day, several restaurants also committed to Shedd the Straw long-term either by setting a “serve by request” policy on straws or switching to compostable alternatives; they committed to celebrating World Oceans Day every day.
Since, we’ve continued our efforts to spread our Shedd the Straw message. Currently, we have nearly 35 restaurants partnering with us on this initiative and we have our sights set at 100 by 2018. As we continue to engage people who live in Chicago, restaurant-owners, policy makers and our Shedd visitors, we look forward to making a positive impact on our oceans with every commitment to Shedd the Straw.
For more information about Shedd the Straw, visit www.sheddaquarium.org/sheddthestraw.