"Nice touch," I said to the waiter.
"I know," he said, smiling.
I drank two glasses of ice water with the one paper straw and it didn't disintegrate or make my water taste like newspaper. This experience was at the tail end of our family vacation in the airport in Orlando.
It's hard enough trying to do our part week to week when we're home, limiting the amount of single-use plastics that now account for 40 percent of the plastic produced every year, according to a recent National Geographic article.
Damn. And 8 million tons of plastic waste escapes into the oceans from coastal nations that can take hundreds of years to break down. Plus, microplastics are everywhere in our environment -- in our water and the air. Millions of animals are killed by plastics every year, from birds to fish to other marine organisms. And eventually, even us.
So, what about recycling? There is some plastic being recycled, right? U.S. recycling rates of PET plastic bottles have historically been sluggish. In 2017 just 29.2 percent of PET bottles were actually recycled compared to the global average of 56 percent, according to the National Association of PET Container Resources. At least more large businesses like PepsiCo, Coca Cola and Walmart are setting bigger longer term goals of using more recycled plastic in their products. But we've got a lot more recycling of plastic to do to get there.
Sure, plastic has made our lives easier and more convenient, especially when you have kids, and especially when you take kids on vacation. But my wife Amy wanted us to try and reduce our single-use plastic footprint on our trip (and everyday actually). So we brought refillable water bottles (some that have their own filters), reusable utensils, reusable storage containers for food, and metal straws -- all of which Amy just cleaned at the end of the day for the next day.
Nearly every place we went to eat and/or get a snack that wanted to give us single-use plastics -- lids and straws and such -- we politely declined every chance we got. We explained to both our girls what we were trying to do and why we were doing it. Both Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando also offered paper straws as alternatives, which was a nice surprise, plus recycling for bottles and cans. Of course we couldn't get away with not ever using some single-use plastics, but we did the best we could.
In the end, it's not really a lot of work. A collective of little differences like this can go a long way in keeping our planet healthy.