In 2015, an upsetting video of an olive sea turtle suffering from a plastic straw lodged in its nose went viral, changing many attitudes towards the tool that is a large convenience for most people.

Yet some ask, how can a plastic straw - a miniature item used for a few seconds before being thrown away - cause much damage?

Well, it easily finds its path into our oceans due to its lightweight nature and once there, does not biodegrade. Instead, fragments (in a painfully slow manner) into smaller and smaller pieces, which are frequently mistaken for food by marine animals. These microplastics are incredibly hard to deal with and unless you happen to be an octonaunt, hard to find. 

In addition, the plastic straw has found a loophole in our recycling scheme. The executive director of the Lonely Whale, Dune Ives explains 'Unfortunately, most plastic straws are too lightweight to make it through mechanical recycling sorters, so end up in landfills and waterways and, eventually, our oceans'. The nonprofit organised the successful Strawless in Seattle marketing campaign supporting the Strawless Ocean initiative. 

In the UK, at least 4.4 billion plastic straws are estimated to be thrown away annually. Yet Hotels are some of the worst offenders: Hilton Waikoloa Village, which became the first resort on the island of Hawaii to eliminate plastic straws earlier last year, used more than 800,000 straws in 2017.

Of course, the plastic straw is simply a microcosm of the monumental volcanoes of waste that enter our oceans. 

Tessa Hempson, operations manager for Oceans Without Borders, a newly launched foundation from luxury safari company &Beyond says “Over the last 10 years, we have produced more plastic than in the whole of the last century, and 50% of the plastic we use is single-use and is immediately thrown away".

One million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals are killed annually from plastic in our oceans. 44% of all seabird species, 22% of whales and dolphins, all sea turtle species, and a growing list of fish species have been documented with plastic in or around their bodies.

But now, the plastic straw has finally started to become an endangered species itself, with places in the UK, South America, Asia, Europe and USA banning them, and some countries limiting single-use plastic items, which include straws. Belize, Taiwan, and England are among the latest countries to propose bans.

Still, a company doesn’t have to wait for the government to institute a ban before implementing one on its own. Soneva banned straws in 2008, and Cayuga has been using bamboo straws since 2010. Hotels like these have paved the way for a movement and the travel and hospitality industries have finally starting to catch on.

Hotel brands initiating plastic straw bans include Four Seasons, AccorHotels North and Central America, Marriott International in the U.K., EDITION hotels, the Doyle Collection, Six Senses, Taj Hotels Palaces Resorts Safaris, Experimental Group, and Anantara. Cruise lines and tour companies including Carnival, Hurtigruten, Peregrine Adventures, and Coral Expeditions have reduced or eliminated their use of plastic straws on their ships. And luxury safari companies like &Beyond and Wilderness Safaris are both working toward removing plastic straws from their lodges.

While individual actions can have a significant impact on the environment and influence in the industry, a ban from a single hotel chain can remove millions of straws in a single year. Anantara and AVANI estimate their hotels across Asia used 2.49 million straws in 2017 and AccorHotels estimates using 4.2 million straws in the U.S. and Canada last year as well.

“Plastic straws are one of the worst offenders in terms of plastic pollution. By putting in alternatives and eliminating their use across &Beyond’s lodges, we are doing our part to keep plastic out of the oceans,” says Hempson.

While not using a straw is best, some people prefer them or need them, like those with disabilities or sensitive teeth or gums. If you want to use a straw, reusable metal, glass, foldable or eco-friendly straws are ideal (preferably not paper though - save the trees!). FinalStraw, is the first collapsible, reusable straw and in 2018 raised funds through Kickstarter.

Hospitality brands eliminating plastic straws have looked to various disposable alternatives. Another choice is compostable straws made from PLA (polylactic acid), a plant-based bioplastic made from materials like cornstarch instead of petroleum. These straws are compostable under the proper conditions but do not break down in water.

A more creative option is uncooked pasta, which is currently being used at Paradise Cove Beach Café in Malibu and tested by Terranea Resort in Rancho Palos Verdes, California. At the Taj Exotica Resort & Spa, Andamans, bamboo straws and stirrers are used.

And some establishments are using actual straw as straws, just like when straws first came into use. The Mandrake hotel in London offers straws made from rye stems, which they get from German company Bio-Strohhalme.

Most people just don’t think about the effects the simple act of reaching for or accepting a plastic straw has on their lives and the lives of generations to come. The hospitality industry has an obligation to begin reducing the amount of plastic waste it generates.

So, let the Straw War battle continue - in the meantime, save our oceans and rid wasteful plastic at your home!