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Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Three Steps to Straw Integrity

In 2015, Elemental Impact (Ei) introduced the Micro Cost of Macro Contamination (MCMC) platform at the National Zero Waste Business Conference hosted in Austin, Texas in a prominent, well-attended Ei Hosted Panel by the same name. The conference panel focus was to educate on Microplastics: an unseen & deadly poison.

Microplastics enter the human-food system
At the time, the revelation of the prolific plastic invasion into the Earth's waterways and oceans was in its infancy. Scientists were beginning to understand how microplastics created a "plastic smog" within the oceans that infiltrates the sea-life and human-food systems. By definition, microplastics are particles smaller than five millimetres.

3-month fish with 17 pieces
of plastic in stomach
Image courtesy of The 5 Gyres Institute
Aquatic life consumes fragmented plastic; larger pieces remain within the digestive tract while smaller ones integrate within the flesh. Thus, plastic enters the human-food system!

Plastic smog clean-up is challenging to impossible due to the microscopic size of the plastic.

Microplastics violate the Earth’s time-perfected regeneration system. Fragmentation, biodegradability and compostability are the foundation of the Earth’s regeneration system:
  • Fragmentation – first step in the bio-degradation process, in which organic matter is broken down into microscopic fragments.
  • Biodegradability – complete microbial assimilation of the fragmented product as a food source by the soil & water microorganisms.
  • Compostability – complete assimilation within 180 days in an industrial compost environment.
Note the difference between biodegradability and compostibility is TIME. By definition, material decomposes within 180 days while bio-degradation may take as long as millions of years.

Microplastics in the soils
Beyond the waterways and oceans, soils are also contaminated with microplastics. Per the EcoCycle | Wood’s End 2011 Study, Should Plastic Coated Materials be Allowed in Materials Collected for Composting?:
“This study showed conclusively that micro-plastic fragments were shred from all plastic-coated samples, whether single or double-coated. This means any plastic-coated paper product, even those that are partially screened out during the composting process, is contaminating the finished compost with plastics particles.”
Macro photo of microplastics
Image courtesy of Mark Browne
In his January 2019 ABC News article, Scientists say microplastics are all over farmlands, but we're ignoring the problem, author Jon Daly substantiates how plastics find their way into agricultural soils through recycled wastewater and rubbish. Within the rubbish is a significant amount of single-use food and beverage packaging; the vast majority of the packaging is either plastic-coated or 100% plastic. Plastic straws are a prevalent contributor to microplastics in the waterways, oceans, and soils.

The article key points are:
  • Between 107,000-730,000 tonnes of microplastic are added to European and North American farmlands each year.
  • In 2017, Australia produced 327,000 tonnes of dry biosolids containing microplastics and 75 percent of it was used in agriculture.
  • Researchers say there is a lack of public awareness and scientific understanding of the issue.
One Less Straw
Carter & Olivia Ries
In November 2016, Ei Strategic Ally One More Generation (OMG) founders Olivia Ries (then 14-years old) and her brother Carter (then 16-years old) launched their global OneLessStraw (OLS) Pledge Campaign. OLS educates the public about the dangers of single-use plastic straws and its effects on our health, our environment, and our oceans.

The OLS site details the following disturbing facts:
  • Each year 100,000 marine animals and over 1 million seabirds die from ingesting plastic.
  • Every day we use 500,000,000 plastic straws. That’s enough straws to fill 46,400 large school buses PER YEAR!
  • U.S. Consumption is equal to enough plastic straws to wrap around the earth’s circumference 2.5 times a day!
A HUGE success, OLS boasts almost 800 partners, restaurants, and schools around the globe. Prominent partners include Delta Air Lines, Hilton Hotels (650 properties), Red Lobster Restaurants (700 restaurants), and TED's Montana Grill (47 restaurants).

OLS participants may order complimentary "We only serve straws upon request" buttons for servers to wear. To date, OLS has distributed over 47,000 buttons!

OLS button
OMG | OLS global recognition is astounding. In 2017 Carter presented to the United Nations congregation in New York City in a World Wildlife Day session on the importance of saving endangered species. Carter and Olivia were keynote speakers during the September 2018 G7 Environment, Energy and Ocean Ministers Ocean Summit session hosted in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.

In early 2019 OMG received the Energy Globe Award for the Youth category from over 6000-project entries from more than 178 countries. Televised globally, the award ceremony was hosted in Iran. The Energy Globe World Award Video was prepared by event organizers as an OLS overview.

Three-Step Straw Initiative
With the June 2019 end of the Ei Recycling Refinement Era, Ei's focus shifted to the Soil Health | Regenerative Agriculture and Water Use | Toxicity platforms within the Ei Era of Regeneration. The 2015 introduction of the MCMC served as a catalyst for the Soil Health | Regenerative Agriculture platform formation. 

As plastic-straw usage reduction gains high-profile media attention, Ei partnered with OMG | OLS for the Three Step Straw Initiative (TSSI) with a planned early summer launch. Beyond plastic-straw usage reduction, TSSI addresses the straw content and end of life and aligns with Ei Era of Regeneration platforms.

The TSSI includes the following steps:
Step 1- REDUCE straw usage 
Step 2SHIFT to paper straws 
Step 3COMPOST used straws 

OMG will encourage OLS participants to further decrease their straw-usage impact by joining the TSSI and shifting from plastic to paper straws. If there is food-waste collection for compost available, OLS participants are encouraged to engage in food-waste collection. Thus, the paper straws contribute to local, quality compost versus another material filling up the landfills or worse the waterways.

Ei-recruited participants are required to take the OLS pledge as their first TSSI step.

With perfect timing, Green Planet Straws joined the Ei Partner program to support the TSSL shift from plastic to paper straws. OLS participants proved that serving straws only upon request reduces overall straw consumption by 70 - 75%. Thus, the shift to paper straws is essentially cost-neutral as the usage reduction compensates for the higher paper-straw cost.

The TSSI is a perfect avenue for former Zero Waste Zones (ZWZ) participants to take their sustainability commitment to the next level. For ZWZ participants, Step 3 - COMPOST is already in place. Thus, cost-neutral Steps 1 & 2 are an easy-to-implement endeavor.

Though they are a relatively minor portion of the plastic-pollution crisis, plastic straw daily and annual usage represents significant pollution tonnage. Straws are high profile and an "easy-win" in the steps towards eliminating single-use plastic food and beverage packaging. The Three-Step Straw Initiative brings "straw integrity" to the hospitality industry.


  1. This is a great article and showcases exactly why we partnered with Elemental Impact ;-)

    1. Thank you so much for reading the article, sharing it on FB, and writing a lovely comment. The Ei Team is thrilled to finally partner on an initiative with OMG! ... and the TSSI is a gateway for so much additional future work together!