Happy World Sea Turtle Day! In honor of the occasion, let’s check in on the sea turtles — has cutting back on plastic straws saved some of these majestic creatures? Did we actually make the transition to paper straws?

In 2015, marine biologist Christine Figgener recorded her team removing a plastic straw wedged into a sea turtle’s nostril — the turtle is seen wincing and bleeding as the straw is extracted. The video tugged at viewer’s heart strings and sparked a movement. No more plastic straws.

Starbucks was one of the first major companies to swear off plastic straws. The announcement claimed the coffee giant would eliminate plastic straws globally by 2020 and replace them with “alternative materials — including paper or compostable plastic.”

Disney and McDonald’s followed by claiming they would also be limiting — or eliminating — plastic straws entirely, per CNN.

In 2022, Canada issued a ban on single-use plastic, such as plastic straws, per Environment and Climate Change Canada. Single-use plastic will be phased out over the span of a decade.

In the years since Figgener’s heartbreaking video surfaced, we’ve made some progress in our efforts to cut back on straws. But the plastic straw still reigns king above most alternatives — especially paper.

Plastic straw alternatives

One of the earliest alternatives to plastic straws was paper. But paper straws come with one major flaw — once they hit a drink, they seem to have a life span of roughly 15 minutes before they go to mush.

To-go drink fans were not paper straw fans. They made that clear on Twitter.

There are several creative alternatives to plastic straws. Some of these include: bamboo straws, bio-degradable straws, papaya leaf straws, edible straws and sip lids.

At home, metal, reuseable plastic, glass and silicone straws all offer a sustainable alternative to single-use plastic straws.

Efforts to cut back on plastic straws are valiant, but they don’t make a major difference. According a Stanford study, plastic straws only make up 1% of the plastic problem in our oceans.

It is estimated that there are 150 million metric tons of plastic in the ocean and we add an extra 8 million metric tons each year, according to the Stanford study. It will take more than the elimination of plastic straws to slow that trend.

Researchers found that 54% of post-hatchling sea turtles had plastic inside them, reports the Ocean Blue Project. An estimated 1,000 sea turtles die every year by consuming plastic, the report added. Once a sea turtle digests 14 pieces of plastic, their morality rate goes to 50%.

How are the sea turtles doing?

There are seven species of sea turtles on the earth today. Out of those seven species, five are in trouble. Leatherback, green and hawksbill sea turtles are all considered endangered species. Loggerhead and olive ridley sea turtles are listed as threatened, according to the Sea Turtle Conservatory.

Simple ways to help save the sea turtles

There are a lot of ways to help save the sea turtles that have nothing to do with the type of straw you drink from. Here are a few suggestions provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

  1. Carry reusable water bottles and grocery shopping bags.
  2. Participate in costal or other cleanups that remove plastic litter.
  3. Don’t release balloons into the sky, they often end up in the ocean where sea turtle and other sea creatures are at risk of consuming them.
  4. Knock down sand castles and fill holes before you leave the beach, they can be obstacles for nesting sea turtles.
  5. Clean up after yourself on coastlines. Never leave fishing equipment or trash on the beach, it can end up in the ocean and harm sea creatures.