We’re hearing a lot about people and businesses ditching plastic straws to help save the environment, and that’s great. Every tiny step in the right direction is a positive one. But avoiding plastic straws is just that—a tiny step.

plastic straws

As humans, we produce nearly 300 million tons of plastic every single year, and 8 million tons of it are dumped into our oceans annually. Scientists estimate that there are up to 8.3 billion plastic straws littered on coastlines around the Earth, but even if every single one of those straws were to fall into the ocean, they’d make up only about 0.03 percent of the plastic that pollutes our seas.

That means that plastic straws account for far less than 1 percent of all plastic in the ocean. So when I say that refusing to drink through plastic straws is a tiny step, I’m not being negative or sassy—I’m being realistic, and I urge you to do the same. Ditching plastic straws in an attempt to save the planet would be like giving someone who’s super-hungry a lollipop instead of a proper meal. Sure, it’s a step in the right direction, but it’s only a baby step.

If we want to make an actual dent in the environmental crisis that’s happening right now, we need to think bigger. Floating in the Pacific Ocean is a patch of garbage that’s twice the size of Texas—the largest of five offshore plastic accumulation zones in the world’s oceans.

Discarded fishing nets account for at least 46 percent (that’s nearly HALF) of the plastic in the garbage patch, while other kinds of fishing gear make up a big portion of the remaining 54 percent. So if we truly want to make a difference, we need to stop catching and eating fish.

Fishing nets are responsible for the deaths of more than 8 billion pounds of fish and shellfish intended for food annually. And they’re also to blame for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of “nontarget” marine mammals. The fishing industry has completely mutilated ocean ecosystems. Ninety percent of large-fish populations have been destroyed as a result of fishing. Plus, longline fishing causes thousands of turtles and birds to drown every year because they become tangled.

sea turtle

Photo: Dominic Scaglioni | CC by 2.0 

That’s a lot to chew on, so I won’t go into detail about the severe health concerns involved with eating fish now, but you can check them out here. Not only will cutting fish out of your diet have a huge positive impact on the environment, it will also benefit your health and help save the billions of sea animals who are killed for food each year.

So the next time you pass on using a plastic straw for your drink when you sit down for a meal, be sure to leave fish (and all other animals) off your plate, too!