The Life of a Straw – A Harrowing Narrative to Support #TheFutureDoesntSuck

#TheFutureDoesntSuck, Bacardi, Lonely WhaleBacardi, the world’s largest privately held spirits company, has been teaming up with venues and organizations worldwide to ban single-use plastic straws. The initiative, #TheFutureDoesntSuck, was launched in July and aims to remove one billion single-use plastic straws by 2020. The mainstreaming efforts have been catching fire as companies including Cachet Hotels and Resorts have joined the movement.

“Every day we have an army of people walking in to bars and restaurants around the world,” said John Burke, chief marketing officer for Bacardi. “We share this campaign with our partners and people working the front-line, those who want to make their voice and support for eliminating single-use plastics heard.”

Bacardi chose to focus on straws because they are non-recyclable, oftentimes end up in the oceans and become eaten by marine life.

Perhaps the organization also heard of the tragic tale of Polly – the polypropylene plastic straw whose vision for a great life was never realized thanks to her single-use material. Enjoy the narrative below:

“Today’s the day!” I excitedly, and too loudly, shouted to my old best friend, Slurp. The two of us, along with 200,000 of our assembly-line counterparts had been through a lot together; we had been burned, morphed, snipped and packaged together. And now we were being shipped together. Our destination was unknown.

“Today’s our only day, Polly…” Slurp grunted back. Slurp was wise beyond his minutes – he understood what the world was really like out there for us. He knew we’d likely suffer the same fate as our ancestors – we’d be chewed up, tossed to the bottom of a trashcan and eventually find ourselves piled up in a trash gyre in the middle of the ocean. After all, the life of a straw is bleak to say the least.

But things would be different for me. I’m going to bask in an ice-cold McDonald’s Coca-Cola, soak up an elementary student’s 2% chocolate milk or suck out the delicious flavor of a tall, non-fat latte with caramel drizzle at Starbucks (Slurp says Starbucks doesn’t use straws anymore – but don’t all coffee shops need straws?)

A slender, freckly man carefully extended his arm to pick up the box Slurp, 498 strangers and I had been living in for the past 10 minutes. He tossed us on top of four other boxes he was balancing and cautiously tiptoed to the back of a mini tractor-trailer, wobbling back and forth as he certainly exceeded his box-carrying limit. He was relieved to finally reach the foot of the truck and wasted no time unloading us, tossing us high into the air as if our sad, single-use life meant absolutely nothing to him.

I forgave him quickly, though, as his next words would almost surely seal my fate and reverse Slurp’s pessimistic outlook for our future. As if in one fluid motion, the slender man closed the gate to the trailer, banged the side of the truck three times and belted out to the driver “Sheeeee’s reaaaaady – next stop: Jay’s Sports Bar.”

Jay’s Sports Bar? Theeeee Jay Sport’s Bar – is that what he said? It’s the number one college bar in the tri-county area and all of the straws were lining up to plunge into a rail drink there. They even have daily specials and alliterative theme nights – Margarita Monday, Taco Tuesday, Wine-o Wednesdays and Thursday Trivia. Oh, how I hope to be unwrapped on Trivia night – I know all of the state capitals and two-thirds of the Greek Gods. The emcee had better not ask me about Dionysus.

Brrrrrap Brap Brap Brapppppp. The sound and smell of the diesel was unmistakable. The truck driver adjusted his cap, switched his gears and we were off. While the other 499 straws in my box – yes, Slurp included – were bumping wrappers trying to search for their nonexistent personal space, I was content and ecstatic about going Jay’s. The future doesn’t suck.

The drive from the factory to Jay’s, though long, was about as smooth as it gets. We passed countless average, non-Jay’s bars along the way. I felt bad for the straws that ended up in hole-in-the-wall joints like these.

We approached our destination and were immediately offloaded and taken through the bar to the stockroom. The bar smelled horrible, like last night’s wild college night had gone completely ignored. Puddles of beer settled overnight and made the floor audibly sticky. It was everything I had hoped for.

My anticipation was ripe. I had gotten a good night sleep and several of my fellow straws had already made their way from the stockroom to the floor. Happy hour was coming and I knew the restaurant would need upwards of 1,000, no, 2,000 straws to satisfy the thirsty college students who just endured a grueling syllabus week full of awkward icebreakers. My moment was coming.

And sure enough, it did. In a matter of three minutes, I went from anxiously waiting in the stockroom to proudly standing front and center, unwrapped and ready for use, in a black bucket next to the bartender. Each drink order begged the chance of me getting selected. I hope my customer was well mannered and not a “you kiss your mother with that mouth?” smart aleck.

“Two gin and tonics and one plain Coca-Cola please,” a young man no older than 21 said to the bartender. The bartender nodded her head and proceeded to fill the drinks. She reached down for three straws and pinched the top of my head – I was one of them! My body was numb with excitement and nervousness. I didn’t want to be in a gin and tonic – that sounded scary. What in the world is tonic?

As destiny would have it, I was plopped into the gin and tonic. I was giddy when I realized I hadn’t immediately blown up when entering the tonic. The young man who ordered the drinks left a sizable tip and reached down to test the potentness of one of the beverages. He opted for the other gin and tonic and seemed pleased with his first few gulps.

Instead of asking one of his friends whom he had ordered for to help transport the drinks from the bar to the cocktail table they had been sitting at, the young man decided to be a hero and take all three cups to the table himself. His hands proving too small and the drinks proving too slippery, the young man dramatically spilled all three drinks almost immediately upon lifting them off of the bar.

I lay sprawled out on the bar, defeated. The bartender shrugged it off and quickly refilled the young hero’s drinks. My hopes and dreams were quickly dashed when the bartender reached into the same tub I used to reside to grab three fresh straws. I was a single-use straw and wasn’t even used once.

I thought my life was over – but it had really just begun.

The bartender nonchalantly picked me and the other two straws up and threw us into a wet, smelly trash bag. The bag became more and more crowded as the party music grew quieter and quieter as the trash piled on. Soon, a bearded man stood over us and tied the bag, fully erasing any of the light that once seeped into the can.

The same bearded man took us on a somewhat fun and somewhat nauseating ride, swinging us around in our bags until we reached an even smellier and more disgusting destination: the dumpster.

Our time in the dumpster seemed endless. Was it two hours? Two weeks? Two years? I really couldn’t tell you. But me and the countless other straws, plastics and food scraps were enthralled to hear the loud beeping of a truck hitting reverse. Our messiah came in the form of a garbage truck, which swiftly lifted the dumpster and thrust the 20 or so black garbage bags on top of 100 or so other reeking garbage bags.

The situation certainly wasn’t better than the dumpster but I held out hope that our misery was temporary and the messiah would soon deliver us to the land of milk and honey. Instead, it delivered us to a different land: the landfill. I was officially just a statistic now; one of 500 million straws discarded by Americans each year; another feather added to the 254 million tons of garbage that annually makes its way to one of the 2,000 landfills in the United States.

I missed the factory. I missed Slurp. I wonder what happened to Slurp – maybe he ended up in the ocean. I hated Slurp. He knew we’d lead miserable lives. But there was one thing he didn’t know – he thought the day we were created, packaged and shipped would be our only day. We’d be chewed up, thrown out and poof, gone. If only. He didn’t realize we’d live in a pit with other non-compostable trash or float in the ocean and end up in the stomachs of turtles or seagulls. He thought we’d live for one day. He was off by a couple thousand years. You see the truth is, we’ll never fully die.

Image credit: Lonely Whale

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Grant Whittington

Based in Washington, DC, Grant works as a program assistant at SEEP Network, an international development nonprofit. A proud graduate of the University of Maryland, Grant spent four months post-grad living in Armenia where he worked for Habitat for Humanity and the World Food Programme. Grant is passionate about humanitarianism and finding sustainable approaches to international development. He enjoys playing trivia with friends but is still seeking his first victory - he ceaselessly blames his friends lack of preparation.