Can One Straw Change The World? | Rachel Lincoln Sarnoff

In TEDxTalks by Mark Sylvester29 Comments

How One Straw Can Change the World

Single-use plastics like cups, bags, bottles and straws contribute to the eight million tons of non-biodegradable plastic that we send to the ocean each year, where it works its way up the food chain and onto our plates. Recent studies have found microplastics in fish, sea salt, and drinking water, and some chemicals in these plastics have been linked to obesity, infertility and even cancer. Is better recycling or using compostable plastics the solution? Not exactly. Learn the simple steps you can take to break your single-use plastic habit and change the world.

Rachel Lincoln Sarnoff is the Executive Director of 5 Gyres Institute, the ocean conservation non-profit that first identified plastic microbeads in the Great Lakes and campaigned for a successful federal ban in 2015.

A former journalist with a MA from USC, Rachel was the Executive Director of Healthy Child Healthy World (now part of the Environmental Working Group) and founder of EcoStiletto and She promoted sustainability on “The Today Show” and “CNN” among others, and authored The Big List of Things That Suck and The Mommy Greenest Guide to Pregnancy, Birth & Beyond. Previously, Rachel executed marketing and development strategies for mission-driven brands and organizations.

A mother of three, Rachel lives with her family in Los Angeles.

This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at


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  2. Rachel, this is so eye-opening and informative. No more straws for me.

  3. still no mention of the aquaculture industry and the enormous amount of plastics they contribute to the marine environment. Where I live on a small gulf island in BC Canada, the shellfish industry allows over 5 tons annually of it’s plastic equipment to escape even though it is against their Conditions of License yet Fisheries and Oceans Canada refuse to enforce the Conditions of License and the BC Shellfish Growers Assoc. refuses to educate the shellfish growers on the damage they are doing to their own livelihood. As well, for years, a nearby town on Vancouver Island has been letting it’s overflow sewage leech into a salmon bearing river which empties out into the same area……crazy making!!!

  4. One of the clearest and most engaging plastic pollution presentations I’ve ever seen. Great job Ms. Sarnoff!

  5. AMAZING Facts ,well informed, excellent information. SIngle use plastic is best left untouched. thanks for this

  6. Very well done; and thank you for including so many shocking statistics to quote! Any chance of getting more information on the research results for some of them? I believe in science; but having some more back-up would be great. The facts I use most are the 2050 more plastic than fish, the turtle with the straw in it’s nose, and the “dirty secret” that only 9% of all those bins of recycling is actually recycled…people REALLY don’t know this and always give me a double take when I share that with them. I myself was enraged and offended that all my sorting, rinsing and garbage toting time was wasted when it’s NOT EVEN BEING RECYCLED. For me, as an avid scuba diver (PNG & Thailand were my favorites in the early 2000’s), my horror was doubled when I realized the impact on the beautiful ocean creatures. Even people who don’t care about turtles or fish or the ocean don’t want to be lied to. Thank you for the truth, as upsetting as it is. I take your challenge and will REFUSE the straw!

    1. Yes absolutely! I have links to all of the studies, just email me through 5 Gyres and let me know which ones you’re interested in and I’ll send the links to you. Thanks for getting involved!

  7. Rachel, you rock! Such a great message delivered with such clarity, passion and eloquence. You are such a powerful spokesperson for our movement. Thank you for all you do, MP

  8. Great presentation…! With your license Rachel I would like to translate it to Spanish to spread the message and facts around my community (I live in a city near Rio de La Plata, Argentina and researchers have found plastic in local fauna)

  9. Yes, please that would be amazing! I will share it also on 5 Gyres Spanish page too. Please email me at Thank you so much!

  10. Thank you so much for your communication which calls for more engagement of the stake holders, raising awareness and more research to be done.

  11. Amazing Rachel! Good job. Just dying to know who is going after the plastic company lobbyists who are getting plastic bans reversed in developing nations across the world? We need to stop it at the source

  12. I’m in TED translator team and I’m always passionate in zero waste and plastic free subjects. Your talk is by far one of the most precise and powerful speech on this topic. I really enjoyed it and will try to translate it into Chinese. Thank you for your endeavor! Yes for the turtles!

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