Starbucks is ditching straws. Here are 5 other ways to keep plastic out of the ocean.

Starbucks is the latest company to ditch plastic straws as a way to help clean up our oceans.

A single straw may seem like a tiny blip on the radar of environmental blights, but then consider that 500 million straws are used by Americans — just Americans — every day. According to CNN, that's enough plastic straws to fill 125 school buses. Every. Single. Day.

Plastic straws are a perfect size and shape for marine life to ingest, and since most of those straws end up in the ocean, that tiny blip multiplied by billions each year equals a significant problem.


Some cities have banned single-use plastic straws — though not without legitimate controversy — and many restaurants have stopped handing them out as a rule. McDonald's has plans to phase out plastic straws in its U.K. restaurants. And now Starbucks says it plans to phase out plastic straws by 2020 and redesign their drink containers to create a better strawless drinking experience.

But straws aren't the only plastic problem for our planet.

We all know by now that our oceans are in dire need of a cleanup. Thankfully, we have some promising technologies designed to help clear the garbage patches — which are largely made up of plastic debris — that have built up in the ocean's gyres.

Cleaning it up is important, but so is the fact that we need to stop contributing to the problem. Humans use and toss away tons of plastic — like straws — that many of us simply don't need to use in the first place. And despite our efforts to make sure we throw away and recycle things properly, far too much of that plastic ends up in the ocean, altering the ecosystem and threatening marine life.

Here are some ways — in addition to skipping the straw — that we can all keep more plastic out of the ocean.

1. Shop with reusable bags. Some states and cities have banned plastic grocery bags in an attempt to encourage people to bring their own. There are lots of affordable, durable alternatives to plastic grocery sacks, and they're easy to keep on hand. Though it takes some time to develop the habit of remembering to bring your own bags into the store, it's worth the effort.

2. Stop using Ziplocs. This one is tough, as few things are more convenient than a Ziploc bag. But miraculously, people survived for millennia without them, so it's definitely possible to go without. If a hard reusable container just won't cut it, try a beeswax-lined cloth snack pouch. All the convenience of a plastic bag, but without the ecological footprint.

3. Carry a reusable water bottle. Not only are plastic water bottles you buy in the store a waste of plastic, they're also a waste of money. We live in a developed nation where clean, drinkable water can be found around every corner, yet we spend up to 1,900 times more money than we need to on buying bottled water — and many of those bottles end up on beaches or floating in the ocean. Stainless steel or glass water bottles are great alternatives.

4. Buy in bulk. That little plastic bottle of oregano in the spice section of your grocery store has a high environmental and financial cost. Look for stores that sell items in bulk bins, and ask the store if they will "tare" a container you bring from home. (That means they weigh the empty container and subtract that weight from the final total after you've added your bulk item.) Spices in particular are usually far cheaper to buy in bulk, and other items, like flours, grains, and beans, often are too.

5. Pick up trash when you see it. This may seem like a no-brainer, but many of us are squeamish about picking up garbage out in public. We all pass garbage on our sidewalks and streets all the time, and much of it will eventually end up being washed into the sea. Make it a goal to pick up trash every time it's in your path and place it in the appropriate receptacle. (But don't put garbage in overflowing cans with no lid — it will end up blowing right back out.) An extra hand washing is a small price to pay for keeping trash out of the ocean.

Small changes in our collective habits can make a difference.

Though we all enjoy convenience, when it comes to plastics, our comfort has a high cost. Reducing our consumption, recycling when we can, and reusing as often as possible is still the trifecta of environmental stewardship. If we all do our part, we can keep our oceans clean, healthy, and beautiful for generations to come.

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