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That was the last straw!

On a beastly hot August afternoon, my friend met me at a coffee shop in Canal Park. I ordered an iced latte and waited for my drink. When the barista called my name I noticed there was no straw in my drink. When I was a kid, mom made our summertime drinks special with a straw.

Midway to the straw dispenser, my hand froze in place. The image of a turtle with blood dripping from its nose flashed through my mind. I had taken a pledge to ditch straws after watching a National Geographic video of researchers prying a drinking straw from the turtle's nostril.

What would one little straw matter on a hot summer day?

Straws are difficult to recycle. They get tossed in the garbage or end up as litter. They end up in our streams, lakes and oceans. Marine animals mistake the straws as food and damage their digestive system.

Eco-Cycle, a non-profit recycler, estimates that 500 million straws are used in the United States every day. That's 1.6 straws per day per person. Imagine 46,400 large school buses filled with plastic straws each year. According to TheLastStraw.org, we use so many straws they could wrap the circumference of the earth 2.5 times or fill Yankee Stadium more than nine times in one year.

Plastic straws are especially harmful to marine life due to their durability, buoyancy and ability to accumulate and concentrate toxins, according to the California Coastal Commission.

Milo Cress was nine years old and in the fourth grade in 2011 when he started a website and an "offer first" campaign, which encourages restaurants to ask their patrons first instead of automatically including straws with drinks. The mayor of his hometown, Burlington, Vt., was so impressed that he issued a proclamation recognizing "offer first" as a best practice in the city.

Cress later moved to Colorado, where his efforts convinced Gov. John Hickenlooper to declare July 11, 2013 Straw-Free Day statewide. Cress then moved to Oregon, where he continues to urge others, especially kids, to take action to keep the environment clean.

There are other groups working on this issue. Straw Wars is a campaign in London that encourages owners of bars, restaurants and clubs to take a pledge to eliminate plastic straws from their establishments.

The Ocean Conservancy has a "Last Straw Challenge." On their website you can pledge to ask your waitress or waiter to skip the straw when you order.

The National Park Service encourages vendors at their concession stands to adopt an opt-in policy, asking customers first if they want a straw rather than giving out straws by default.

In Minnesota, our lakes and streams are our greatest natural resources. Let's do all we can to keep them clean and prevent unnecessary suffering of our aquatic life.

If you can't live without a straw, use one made from paper, glass, bamboo or stainless steel. The word "straw" came about because the first ones were made of rye grass straw.

I had my "last straw" moment two weeks ago in Canal Park with our beloved Lake Superior a block away. When you go out, please tell your waitstaff to "skip the straw, please."

Naomi Yaeger

Naomi Yaeger is a freelance writer and the former editor of the Budgeteer. See her blog at www.DuluthDailyPhoto.com.

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