Maia Toll
I’ve been thinking about hope… and believe it or not, plastic straws!

“Optimism is a strategy for making a better future. Because unless you believe that the future can be better, you are unlikely to step up and take responsibility for making it so. If you assume there is no hope, you guarantee there will be no hope.” — Noam Chomsky

I was friggin’ furious.

The floorboards shook as I stomped around the kitchen making my morning cup of tea.

“He’s selling what???!!!” I seethed. “That is the most ridiculously irresponsible…” I stuttered to a wordless stop. I was practically panting with rage.

What, you might wonder, was causing me, pre-caffeine at eight in the morning, to froth like a venti cappuccino?

Plastic straws. Specifically, ten packs of plastic straws laser engraved with the word TRUMP and being sold as a fund raiser for the fall presidential race.

Now let’s be clear: plastic straws account for less than 1% (less than 1/2%, actually) of the plastic in our oceans. But they’ve become an important environmental touch stone for a couple of reasons:

  • First there was a video of a sea turtle (an endangered sea turtle) with a straw stuck up his nose. That video went viral and quickly raised public awareness.
  • Straws are small and sharp, so while they aren’t the biggest problem in terms of ocean trash, they present an over-sized issue for the sea animals who get speared by them.
  • While most people have no clue what to do about The Great Pacific Garbage Patch (yup, that’s really is a thing), they can pretty quickly figure out how to begin to resolve the straw issue.

This last point is the reason for my morning rage against the TRUMP re-election machine. In the years since the sea-turtle-snorting-straw video, non-plastic straws have slowly become an option in restaurants and cafes. People are empowered to just say no when offered the ubiquitous plastic tube, and many of us who enjoy the sensation of sucking (sorry, I couldn’t resist!) have invested in stainless steel or bamboo reusable straws.

Nope, it isn’t solving the whole problem, but it’s a very do-able way to make a small dent in a large problem.

More than that, there’s a snowball effect as more and more businesses (who are also looking for a way to approach the large and difficult conundrum of everything coming wrapped in plastic) begin to provide plastic straw alternatives. And here’s the important part: when we see that a small change is multiplying, we begin to have hope that solutions can be found for the larger, almost incomprehensible, issues we are facing.

So when I learned that the Trump campaign is selling 10 packs of plastic straws laser engraved with Trump’s name, I kind of lost my mind. Not because of the straws (although that pissed me off too), but because the Trump campaign is trying to steal our hope. Those 10 packs of straws which sell for $15 each say “That no-plastic-straw thing you’re so proud of doing? It doesn’t matter. You can’t make a difference.” When we see that a small change is multiplying, we begin to have hope that solutions can be found for the larger, almost incomprehensible, issues we are facing. Click To Tweet

It’s pretty easy to convince us of this on a subliminal level, because even as we’re sorting our recycling, we’re wondering if all the sorting and making special trips to the recycling center is making any difference at all. As individuals or small business owners, it’s hard to push the needle on environmental issues in a way that feels significant. And some of the ways in which we can help can take huge amounts of effort that are hard to sustain without seeing a result.

Andrew and I drove a grease car for a while, straining used vegetable oil to fill the tank of our converted diesel Mercedes. Removing food bits from used fryer oil and keeping an older model car on the road was a tremendous amount of work. And our efforts felt like it was making little difference. Let’s face it: very few people are going to strain used cooking oil to fuel their cars. Plus, everything we brought into the car, including us, always smelled vaguely like french fries.

Driving diesel cars converted to run on used fryer fuel is simply not a highly replicable change. People didn’t see us belching along in our french fry mobile and suddenly think “I wanna do that too!” There was no multiplication of the effect we were making; it was a one off, a dead end.

Switching from plastic straws, on the other hand, is easy and replicable. If you own a restaurant on the east side of town and you walk into a cafe on the west side where they’re using cardboard straws you might think, “you know, this is a small change I can make that will let my customers know that I care about the environment.” When you multiply the effect, you begin to see an impact that can be created at the grass roots level. And while it’s true that straws are a mere drop in the plastic bucket, we begin to think “we were able to take care of plastic straws. I wonder what else we can take care of?”

This is hope in action.

When I got done raging round the kitchen, I asked Andrew to source stainless steel straws. Because hope? It’s vital to our personal power and our national welfare.

Herbiary is selling metal straws and donating the profits to The Plastic Ocean Project. Buy a pack of straws. Use them to remind you— each time you use one— that we create change, together, one small step at a time.

Let’s not let politics erode our faith in our own actions and in the power of community to get things done. Let’s take back hope.


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