Well before Starbucks announced its plan to phase out plastic straws at its stores, a movement started in Chattanooga to reduce pollution from these single-use plastics.

Last year the Tennessee Aquarium, along with nearly 20 others across the country formed the Aquarium Conservation Partnership. The goal is to educate the public and keep our waterways clean.

Bill Willets and his grandson came from Atlanta on Monday to visit the Tennessee Aquarium. They were surprised to see paper straws at the concession stands.

"This is the first time I've come across them, and I think it's a great idea, but who am I," Willets said with a chuckle.

He's one of a countless number of people who normally use plastic straws, but he's willing to consider other options whether they're reusable or recyclable. 

"Straws, bottles, lids, cups," Willets said.

Aquarium spokesperson Thom Benson says the switch to paper was made a year ago because so many plastic products have been polluting the world's waterways, including the Tennessee River.

"There are some people who have disabilities who require a straw, but for the vast majority of Americans, plastic straws are merely a convenience," Benson stated.

He said the aquarium has kept 45,000 plastic straws out of circulation since making the change.

"When you stack these on top of each other, that would reach 30,000 feet in the air, which is higher than Mt. Everest," Benson explained.

The aquarium and Tennessee River Rescue are doing their part. However, it will take a more collective effort to make a wider impact. Benson says we can't recycle our way out of this problem because plastics don't ever break down completely, they only break up into smaller pieces.

"That's ingested by aquatic animals and works its way up the food chain, eventually getting into seafood and getting into us," Benson added.

He says we have to stop using single-use plastics on the front end. One way is for customers not to use plastic straws at restaurants, and for restaurants not to give them to customers unless they ask for them.

"Anything we can do to reduce that, I'm all for it," Willets, who wants a cleaner environment for his grandson, said.

The Tennessee Aquarium gift shop also sells reusable straws, which are easy to clean, as well as other reusable products.

Alaska Airlines and McDonald's in the U.K. are planning to phase out plastic straws as well.

Around 500 million plastic straws are used in the United States every day, according to ecocycle.org.  Also, 500 million straws could fill more than 127 school buses. Each person in the U.S. will use more than 38,000 straws between the ages of five and 65.