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How skipping a plastic straw can help save the planet

How skipping a plastic straw can help save the planet
Americans are said to use and discard millions of plastic straws every single day, with many straws ending up in our oceans. (Mike Kemp / Corbis via Getty Images)

We've all gotten the memo on single-use plastic water bottles, right? Skipping them in favor of reusable water containers is better for the environment, eco-warriors say.

Well, this Earth Day, the new Public Enemy No. 1 in green-minded circles is single-use drinking straws. The reason? The typical straw that you get when you buy a drink at a fast-food restaurant is probably plastic, but not necessary recyclable.

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"Most plastic straws are too lightweight" to make it through mechanical sorters, and their relatively small size means straws are often disposed as garbage — and end up polluting our oceans, according to Strawless Oceans, one of many ocean advocacy groups targeting plastic straws.

And the numbers are stunning. Americans use and largely dispose of more than 500 million plastic straws every day. "Most of those end up in our oceans, polluting the water and killing marine life," according to Strawless Oceans.

So what can you do to join Martha Stewart, actors Adrian Grenier and Ellen Pompeo and others in curbing straw use? Here are a few ideas that can help:

These paper straws are said to break down in a compost bin within 60 days.
These paper straws are said to break down in a compost bin within 60 days. (Aardvark straws)

--Skip plastic straws when sitting down to eat at a restaurant. Tell servers up front you don't want a plastic straw, and politely stop them before straws can touch the table. (Many restaurants will just toss straws that have been left behind on a diner's table, even if unused.)

--Invest in a set. Sometimes, you just need a straw! There are many reusable straws on the market, so shop around. We like the dishwasher-safe, stainless steel set of four at Crate and Barrel, $6.95.

--And when you need to go disposable? Reach for compostable paper straws. One that caught our eye: Aardvark paper straws are made in the USA and come in a variety of sizes and are customizable. (Hello, wedding party planning!) They're sold in Party City stores, and Amazon. You can try them in person at Eataly LA, according to Aardvark.

Bonus points if you put these paper straws in your compost bin after use. (You have a compost bin, right?) Aardvark says their paper straws break down in 30 to 60 days.

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