BROWARD COUNTY, Fla. — Buddy Sparrow is trying to save the turtles — and he’s using about 32,000 paper straws to do it.
Sparrow said he got tired of picking up plastic straws on the sand in Deerfield Beach, knowing their deadly effect on sea life.
So he spent more than $1,000 and a couple hundred hours buying all that paper product, printing up fliers and meeting with people about the need to stop using plastic.
“People think I’m insane for sure,” joked Sparrow, 56, a closet organizer who sometimes sings in local venues. “I start to wonder sometimes myself.”
For the past two months, Sparrow and two recruits have visited 50 bars, restaurants and hotels that serve cold drinks in Deerfield, mostly east of Federal Highway. Sparrow asks them to display a sign that says “straws available upon request.” They estimate about 35 have said they would.
Sparrow is also providing them with a start-up pack of biodegradable paper straws that he’s hoping they will order for themselves once they run out of the free set.
Each restaurant that commits to this “Strawless Summer” gets a pack of 400 straws each from Sparrow.
Sparrow said some restaurants have committed to the idea. And others, like The Sticky Bun in The Cove shopping center, have stopped using plastic straws entirely.
“If we can do something, even if it’s small, it makes us feel better,” said Pauline Hrabovsky, who’s been serving up sticky buns in Deerfield for three years.
Like millions of others, Sparrow and Hrabsovsky have seen video of a turtle getting a straw pulled out of its nose. They’ve heard reports of a plastic mass twice the size of Texas that’s sitting in the ocean.
Not every customer likes the idea of no straws.
“One lady said that if her lips touch a cold glass, her lips will crack,” Hrabsovsky said.
Restaurant manager Jenni Amirto is undeterred.
“As soon as I say, ‘It’s to save the sea turtles and the sea animals,’ they love it,” she said.
David Anderson, sea turtle conservation coordinator at Gumbo Limbo Nature Center in Boca Raton, said that plastics are the biggest threat to hatchlings. Straws usually don’t impale noses like the one in the video, but they break up into tiny bits that hatchlings eat.
“They are out there as hatchlings getting sick, weak and washing back in,” he said. “The ones that survive we see passing plastic through their system.”
The paper straws that Sparrow has ordered can sit in liquid for hours before beginning to degrade, he said. One plastic straw ordered in bulk quantities costs a fraction of a cent, whereas Sparrow’s order was more like 2 cents each.
Sparrow insists the extra cost is worth it. He’s been heartbroken at the sight of litter carpeting the beach after public events such as last year’s Fourth of July celebration, he said.
“I love the beach — I’ve been coming since 1991,” he said. “It’s where I went to pray when I needed healing from (thyroid) cancer. There, I started thinking, ‘What if I die?’ I thought, let me do some things that are going to leave this planet a little better place than when I came.”
Tribune News Service