Stop the Straw -Spring 2018

by: Joshua H. Balling

photography by: Nicole Harnishfeger

On Nantucket, some 3 million plastic straws are used and discarded each summer, a small part of the 500 million used daily in the United States, according to estimates by the nonprofit Ocean Conservancy. While most end up in landfills, many find their way into the sea.

First-term Select Board member Rita Higgins, who was elected last April on a platform promoting environmental protection, water quality and affordable housing, decided she had to do something about it.

She is now spearheading “Stop the Straw,” a collaborative effort of the town, ReMain Nantucket and the Maria Mitchell Association, which kicked off in late February.

Stop the Straw aims to reduce unnecessary waste and protect the oceans from plastic pollution by asking businesses and restaurants to provide straws and cocktail stirrers only when asked, get rid of them altogether or replace them with compostable paper straws or re-usable options.

“We are really focusing on keeping plastic out of the ocean. It poses a threat to marine life, and to humans as well. We’re finding it in the stomachs of fish. It’s a dangerous argument to say that because straws are small, they don’t have an impact. There’s so many of them, they do. Plastics degrade, but they never go away,” said Higgins, 37, who grew up in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. and now owns her own sustainable landscaping company on the island with her husband Paul Quirke, a stonemason.

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