Maybe you’ve probably heard that Starbucks has announced it will quit plastic straws all over the world by 2020. The straws will be replaced with recyclable lids or straws made out of environmentally-friendly materials. The move is expected to do away with one billion plastic straws every year across Starbucks’ 28,000 stores.
One billion straws. It’s a huge number. Here’s another number: 275 million metric tons of plastic waste finds its way into our oceans in a year. Surely, these numbers must have sparked corporations like Starbucks to take action to decrease waste. The statistics were important, but the sensitive context was even more important. It’s well-established in communication theory that big numbers don’t move people to action because they lack a critical element of persuasion—emotion. Without passion and emotion, it’s nearly impossible to persuade people to take action. A sea turtle gave the movement the emotion it required.
The Sea Turtle That Sparked a Social Movement. The social movement to scrap single-use plastic straws took off after a video of a sea turtle was posted on YouTube in August of 2015. It wasn’t just any sea turtle. In the graphic video, we watch as marine biologists remove a straw that had become lodged in its nose. The video attracted more than 8 million views. An online petition calling on Starbucks to stop using plastic straws drew more than 150,000 signatures using—you guessed it—the turtle as its poster animal. A growing number of companies have made similar pledges including McDonald’s, Alaska Airlines and Bon Appetit.
If you haven’t seen the turtle video, check out the video below but we have to warn you it is bloody and disturbing. The video served as a catalyst for people and corporations to take action against plastic straws.