Editor’s note: The following commentary by Rita Thiel is about her and Pat Garber’s campaign begun in April to eliminate plastic straws on Ocracoke.

Plastic pollution is inundating the world and this year’s Earth Day on April 22 celebrated with a global theme of “End Plastics Pollution” with good reason.

A recent CNN story identified the rise of plastic in oceans, along with rising temperatures and sea levels and chemical pollution, as some of the biggest problems the marine environment faces.

The report found that 70 percent of marine litter is non-degradable plastic which is projected to increase threefold between 2015 and 2025.

This impacts Ocracoke as plastic has been found to choke marine wildlife and has entered the ocean food chain, exposing marine life to toxic chemicals that can end up in the food on our plates.

Around 150 million tons of plastic float in our oceans with an additional 8 million tons entering the water each year, according to the World Economic Forum. It is estimated that by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in our oceans by weight if current rates of plastic dumping hold.

To that end Pat Garber and I began researching and talking to island restaurants about a first step—eliminating plastic straws from the myriad plastic in our lives.

“We’ve stopped giving straws,” said Sue O’Neal, co-owner of the Pony Island Restaurant. “If someone has a special need or specifically asks, we’ll give them what we have. We’re completely on board with this.”

The plastic straw-less campaign is off to a great start. Not only is Ocracoke embracing the idea, but an aggressive global movement is at hand, as the plastic pollution crisis can no longer be ignored. Several U.S. cities have now banned plastic straws and cutlery.

Katy Mitchell, owner of The Magic Bean Coffee Bazaar, has found several compostable products from her supplier that she can order for her business, replacing lingering plastic lurking on her shelves.

Jason Wells, co-owner of Jason’s Restaurant, has found that his supplier, Sysco, indeed will supply paper straws at a nominal cost increase of about 30 percent.  

Laurie and Sean Death, owners of the Ocracoke Bar and Grille, have compostable straws and have taken further means to reduce their carbon footprint.

The plastic straw-less movement is active all along the Outer Banks. Businesses are hopping on board and either eliminating straws or switching out their plastic straws.

Aardvark Straws has sent samples of each of their paper straw sizes, from bar stirrers to smoothie straws. If any business is interested in seeing the selection, please contact the Ocracoke Observer: info@ocracokeobserver.com.

If asked, several restaurant suppliers can provide paper straws and wooden stirrers. Check with your supplier. The more businesses that ask for them, the easier they will be to get, and the cost will come down. Keep demanding. They will supply.

Earth Day 2018 also spurred an impromptu island litter clean up.  Volunteers went out on their own time, used their own bags and boxes, and decided which areas they would clean.

It wasn’t an organized event. A notice was posted online, and volunteers simply showed up and did some much-appreciated and much-needed clean up.

“There is more to be done,” said one volunteer. “It’s never-ending.”

Indeed, “Earth Day” should be observed every day with everyone doing their part to reduce trash.

It’s hardly conceivable that, despite much media attention these last several decades, there are still people who toss beer, water and soda bottles and other trash along Ocracoke’s roads. How simple is it to just hold onto this trash and dispose of it properly?

Fortunately, Ocracoke’s beaches are amazingly pristine, but trash from the ocean inevitably washes up on the island’s shores.

Everyone who uses the beach should be aware of the Park Service’s “pack-it-in, pack-it-out” campaign with the Outer Banks Preservation Association that encourages all beach-goers to reduce impacts during their visits by remembering that what is brought onto the beach should be brought off the beach at the end of each visit.

And in honor of World Oceans Month this month (June), the NPS and the N.C. Beach Buggy Association, based in Hatteras, has schedule a beach cleanup from 8 a.m. to noon this Saturday, June 23, at the Lifeguard Beach.

All participants and volunteers are encouraged to bring leather gloves, water, snacks, and sunscreen. Please wear appropriate clothing, such as closed-toe shoes and hats.

Every time someone takes the time to stop and pick up a stray piece of trash along the road helps keep the island beautiful.

“Littering is not only bad for the environment, but it’s illegal,” said Captain Jason Daniels, of the Hyde County Sheriff’s Department. “One beer or pop can; one cigarette butt can land you with a $250 fine.”


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  1. I am excited that someone took this campaign on. If a straw is really needed, paper ones are a good replacement. I was disappointed when we were just there that some places are still using them and hope they will get on board to eliminate this plastic that is so unnecessary

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