Within the past few days, Ikea, Royal Caribbean, and SeaWorld have all announced that they will ban one of the most common things in our lives: plastic straws and bags. Why? Because plastic -- more than 8 million tons a year -- is increasingly finding its way into the planet's oceans, and is being ingested by the plants and animals that live there. As you can imagine, this causes all sorts of problems.

One of these problems was dramatically illustrated after the discovery of a dead pilot whale on a Thailand beach a couple of weeks ago. When the whale was autopsied to determine the cause of its death, 80 plastic bags were found in the animal's stomach.

According to SeaWorld's announcement of its new policy, all 12 of the company's theme parks have already removed single-use plastic straws and single-use plastic shopping bags. Says Jon Peterson, manager of rescue operations at SeaWorld Orlando,

"We've seen first-hand the horrific damage that plastic pollution causes to animals. Some studies have indicated that more than half of sea turtles out in the wild ingest some form of plastic. In fact, just this week, we performed surgery on a rescued sea turtle who became ill from ingesting plastic and other ocean debris."

Cruise line Royal Caribbean will phase out plastic straws by January 1, 2019, and Ikea just announced that it has set a goal to completely eliminate single-use plastic straws and bags by January 1, 2020.

Says Lena Pripp-Kovac, sustainability manager for Inter IKEA Group,

"The problem of plastic pollution is complex, with no single solution. To drastically reduce plastic pollution, a range of actors, such as policymakers, politicians, other businesses and consumers, all need to contribute to the change. We are determined to play our part and take responsibility in the areas where we can make a difference."

Based on my own experience, there is definitely a trend toward the use of paper straws and away from plastic ones. I have been to several restaurants lately that only offer paper straws, and I expect this trend to increase in the coming months and years. Starbucks and McDonald's are already experimenting with paper straws in the UK, so it's probably just a matter of time before they become ubiquitous for all large restaurant chains internationally.

And that will be a very good thing for our oceans -- and, ultimately, for us.