The amount of plastic making its way into the world oceans is nothing short of staggering. It’s a massive problem and one that’s not going to be solved overnight.

Take, for instance, these few examples:

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a massive area measuring more than twice the size of Texas. It’s simply part of the North Pacific Gyre, an ocean region where currents collect drifting plastic.

The floating mass of plastic in the Pacific isn’t alone. Researchers have spotted a floating “island” of plastic waste, measuring several dozen miles long in the Mediterranean sea between the French island of Corsica and the Italian island of Elba, according to reporting in Newsweek magazine this past May.

This accumulation of plastic waste threatens the world’s oceans and the creatures that live in them, from microscopic plankton to huge whales. It’s not just a problem about saving wildlife, however. Plastic doesn’t biodegrade in the same way that other organic refuse does; instead, when it breaks down at all, it breaks into smaller, even more hazardous bits and microparticles.

A couple of decades ago, we worried about plastic six-pack holders choking sea-going creatures like loggerhead turtles and wandering albatrosses. Now we worry, rightfully so, about plastic waste entering the food chain and working its way up to the seafood — fish, shrimp, crab and much more — consumed each year by people around the world. Plastic waste threatens humans, as well. The microparticles of plastic already permeating the food chain will likely have unforeseen effects on human health for decades to come.

Think we’re grasping at straws? Some area eateries are already stepping up to the challenge. Nicole Dyer, the owner of White Birch Juice and Food in Abingdon, Virginia, made the switch to biodegradable straws about a year ago. She shared her motivations for the decision in an article published in the Bristol Herald Courier.

Older readers may remember a time when the straws that came with most beverages were not made from plastic. Straws made from paper and other materials only faded from use in the 1960s and ‘70s. Now they’re making a resurgence, and just in time, too.

While some consider the move to eliminate plastic straws as merely a pipe dream, it’s important to keep in mind that sometimes solving a huge problem should be tackled in gradual stages. In other words, take a few “baby steps” and eliminate plastic straws. The rest of the examples of single-use plastics can come later. Getting rid of plastic straws should not have a political “side.” It’s simply one small step for making the planet cleaner and safer for people, as well as other life.

Eliminate straws and then other unnecessary plastics. The world and its oceans will be cleaner. Sea turtles and baby seabirds will not starve from a diet of plastic waste instead of jellyfish and sardines. Great whales will not waste away to nothing for an autopsy to reveal stomachs stuffed to capacity with plastics and other wastes.

If one enjoys an occasional meal of grilled salmon, boiled crab legs or fried shrimp, consider this additional motivation. If we can clean up the seas, the toxic chemicals inherent in the production of any plastic will not end up in our bodies because of the seafood we eat.

We have photographic proof that plastics are a problem. We have scientific research to back up the proof of the photos. The time to act was yesterday, but we can take many small steps now as individuals and small business owners to lessen the severity of the problem and create demand and pressure for larger businesses to follow suit. It’s time we do so.

Customers will still have straws for sipping milkshakes or soft drinks. They’ll just be made of paper — or glass, metal, or other safer materials than plastic. The next time an eatery provides a paper straw with your beverage, thank your server or the owner. If the eatery is still using plastic straws, consider abstaining from using one. After all, it’s still possible to sip your tea or soft drink without using a straw.

-The Bristol Herald Courier