By Jackie Rainford Corcoran EBS Health Columnist

During a recent visit to Yellowstone National Park’s Canyon Lodge, I noticed a placard in front of a straw dispenser. It said “Choose to Be Straw Free” and explained that an estimated 500 million drinking straws are discarded in the U.S. every day—enough to fill 46,400 school buses annually. That’s 127 school buses every day.

A vast majority of disposable plastic ends up in the ocean. According to a 2014 United Nations Environmental Programme report, plastic waste in the world’s oceans causes $13 billion of damage annually, and makes up 80 percent of litter found along the coasts.

Some conservationist groups estimate that at least 100,000 mammals and birds die from ingesting or getting snared in plastic each year. The number of fish killed by plastic is unknown but estimated to be in the millions.

The California Coastal Commission claims that straws are among the top 10 items cleaned off the state’s beaches. They recovered more than 20,000 in 2013 alone.

The “Be Straw Free” campaign began with an environmentally conscious young boy from Burlington, Vermont. Nine-year-old Milo Cress was concerned about the earth’s limited oil supply and available landfill space. Noticing that many restaurants automatically give their customers straws when they order cold drinks he realized this was an area where we can create a significant impact.

In 2010, Cress approached Leunig’s Bistro in his hometown and asked them to adopt his “Offer First” policy. He explained in an interview published on the National Park Service website that, “plastic straws are made of our dwindling oil resource, and simply by offering them instead of serving one with every drink automatically, we can reduce our consumption in half or more.”

Leunig’s Bistro responded enthusiastically and the Be Straw Free campaign has continued to grow ever since. His efforts have rippled across the planet from Canada to South Korea and throughout America’s national parks. In November 2012, Ted’s Montana Grill signed their pledge of support. Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper even created an annual “Straw Free Day” in the state on July 11, 2013.

Going strawless is the most sustainable option. But for those of us who physically must use straws or simply love them, we might consider using reusable straws made from materials like stainless steel, glass or bamboo.

Cress believes the solution to reducing waste lies in the hands of our youth. He said in the Park Service interview that, “this planet is not a place that kids will inherit at some point far off in the distant future; we live here right now, we share this planet already. It’s ours to play on as well as to take care of.”

What can you do? Start with a visit to the website ecocycle.org. They have ideas for individuals, businesses, communities and organizations. They offer an official pledge to go strawless, links to purchase reusable straws and information on how to involve restaurants in the Be Straw Free campaign.

Businesses can find ways to adopt the Offer First policy and download the Be Straw Free table tent for display. As a community member, you can review Burlington’s community proclamation and discover how to involve your own community in the Be Straw Free campaign.

Say no to plastic straws. They suck.

Jackie Rainford Corcoran is an IIN Certified Holistic Health Coach and Consultant, a public speaker and health activist. Contact her at jackie@corehealthmt.com.