The Kritic

‘Inspirational’ Category

Say No To Plastic Straws

Say No To Plastic StrawsSource: Ian Dalkin #

In the iconic World Heritage listed Blue Mountains is the town of Blackheath, some 112 kilometres west of Sydney. With a population of 4569 this historic tourist town swells with visitors for overnight stays to stays of 3 to 4 days over weekends and holiday times. Attracted to eating out at restaurants, cafes enjoying historic buildings, Bushwalking and rainforest walks and to visit national parks or state parks or even just visiting friends and relatives.

Local businesses are made up of cafes, restaurants, bakeries, grocery shops, delicatessens, takeaways, service stations and pubs so the use of the most superfluous item ever made out of plastic, straws, had the potential to be quite high.

The Kritic recently chatted with Lis Bastian, from The Big Fix, who is a local resident of Blackheath that became interested in doing something about the use of plastic straws in her town. Ms Bastian decided that the most environmentally responsible solution to the problem was to end their use and set about questioning each of the shop-front businesses in order to find out exactly how many straws were being used. Of the 30 store front local businesses that use straws Ms Bastian found that they were using a total of 40,000 straws per month.

With such a large quantity being used each month, stocks of plastic straws amongst the businesses was quite high so an immediate ban was not feasible additionally “Some businesses weren’t keen on the idea – partly because they preferred plastic straws and partly because of the cost of paper straws.” So it was decided that a phase-out of plastic straw usage was the best way to proceed. With different businesses using vastly differing amounts of straws a month it was imperative that she find out how many each business used and also the stocks of plastic straws held. To facilitate the phase-out out Ms Bastian organised a community paper straw bulk buy and sponsorship from American manufacturer Aardvark and Australian distributor Green Pack.

The time frame involved in getting to this stage of the phase-out was a couple of months as initially there was some reluctance to change so “there was a need to talk to every business and research substitutes for plastic and where I could get them.”

Those of us outside of Blackheath first heard of the move to ban plastic straws at the end of October 2016 how is the phase out going?

“The phase out isn’t complete. Some people use so few straws that they still have plastic straws left. And, in some businesses, people keep asking for plastic straws. ie. the businesses are willing to give up plastic straws but the customers aren’t, so they still make both plastic and paper available.”

With your campaign has there been any emphasis on discouraging the use of any straw?

“Yes, we did cartoons and campaigns to encourage people to not use straws at all. There was also a DL size brochure in a plastic stand placed on each counter advising that the stores only supplies straws on demand. We believe that as community awareness rises, more and more people will choose to ‘Say NO!’ to straws, and that the demand, even for paper straws, will decrease. Globally billions of straws are thrown out each day and Blackheath alone has been throwing out around 40,000 straws a month! Because they don’t biodegrade, they are amongst the top plastic pollutants harming our waterways, oceans and ecosystems. This is such a small and easy thing each one of us can do and I’m thrilled that the businesses of Blackheath have worked collaboratively to achieve this milestone.

On request

Straws on requestSource The Big Fix

Re-usable alternatives to plastic straws, are available, they come in Borosilicate Glass, Titanium, Stainless Steel and Bamboo. Are you aware of any local pubs, cafes or restaurants that are, or may be considering, using re-usable straws?

“I’ve heard of them in other parts of Australia, eg. Manly, but not Blackheath”

Re-Usable straws

Re-Usable strawsSource Google Ads

Being that Blackheath is part of the greater area of Blue Mountains City is there a move to get the other towns to follow with their own bans?

“The Combined Business Chambers in the Mountains have shown an interest in doing something about it but haven’t done anything yet as far as I know. A couple of businesses in Katoomba have stopped selling plastic straws.”

Has the Blue Mountains City council been approached about a city wide ban?

“The Greens Councillor, Kerry Brown moved a motion to move away from single use plastic but it wasn’t fully accepted… the final motion that was voted on was to write to the State Government to ask for a ban on plastic bags.”

The Kritic approached Councillor Kerry Brown for a comment.

“It is heartening that Blackheath businesses are showing leadership on protecting the environment by phasing out plastic straws even when there may be some extra cost in buying biodegradable straws. Of course, by discouraging people from using straws unnecessarily, overall costs to businesses will be reduced. Stopping waste saves money.

“While Council can’t legislate about plastic straws, we can certainly act to promote this initiative and others like it and to educate the public. I encourage suggestions from the community on how Council could help more to eradicate single-use plastics.”

Any final words about the straw ban?

“Ideally we’d like to encourage people to not use straws at all. We were fortunate to get sponsorship from Aardvark straws and GreenPack which made it more accessible for our local businesses.”

Will you be announcing a plastic bag ban any time soon or perhaps a ban on disposable coffee cups in favour of the BioCup or bring your own? What about take away containers?

“We have a Boomerang Bags group (that) has started who are working on plastic bags and a local cafe is starting an Emergency Mug Wall… we will gradually work our way through doing something about all single-use plastic items.”

Update:

Boomerang Bags Blackheath have announced that on Monday, 6th November, with the help of numerous, wonderful, local volunteers they will be launching with 500 Boomerang Bags.

# Ian Dalkin – Say No To Plastic Straws – When The Big Fix approached local businesses to see if they’d agree to help Blackheath phase out plastic straws, one common remark was that men rarely use straws… it’s mostly women and children. This triggered an idea that local artist and designer Ian Dalkin developed into a cartoon. It has since become the basis of the Blackheath Gets Real Campaign… if real men don’t need straws, then real women and real children don’t need them either… so let’s all collaborate to Get Real About Plastic Pollution by SAYING NO! to plastic straws.

16
Sep

Activist Abby

Activist AbbyIt is always uplifting when young people step up and do something for the environment in their community. One such person is Abby from Grayslake, Illinois in the United States of America.

I first came across 14 year old Abby, who goes by the title “Activist Abby”, on Facebook about two years ago. Abby had set up the page after seeing the devastation that millions of plastic bags have caused the environment and ocean life. Abby has set about to get a ban on single-use plastic shopping bags in her home town. Abby’s efforts to fight for legislation to ban bags and educate people on the dangers of plastic caught the attention of the organisers of the 5 Gyres expedition and as a result she was offered a position on the yacht Sea Dragon for the scientific trip to the North Atlantic gyre in June to see first-hand the plastic pollution in our oceans and get a better understanding how big the issue is.

The Kritic has invited Abby to write a guest blog about her cause and the story behind how she got involved, as well as her trip to the North Atlantic gyre. I am hoping her story will inspire other young, and older, people to take up the push to have single use plastics removed and replaced with suitable alternatives.

This is Abby’s story:

My name is Abby Goldberg and since August of 2011, I’ve been working on a reusable bag campaign. I have also been helping with plastic bag legislation. This all started as a school project. To graduate 8th grade, I had to complete a two year project, designed by myself, that would benefit my community and the environment. I wanted to convince my village to ban plastic shopping bags. The idea literally flew in my face! I live near a landfill and on windy days, temporary fencing is put up to catch thousands of bags. My research taught me that plastic bags are made from non-renewable resources and that litter from plastic bags harms our environment. I also learned how my government works and what activism is all about.

What really drew me to this project was my love of animals. I found out that turtles were dying because of plastic bags! These wonderful creatures eat bags thinking they are jellyfish. Some people think that the benefits and their right to use plastic bags outweigh the litter and the use of natural resources. But I can’t see the benefit when an animal dies. Plastic bags were once an easy choice with no thought to the consequences, nice for a while, but now I know better. Soon I started to notice OUR plastic bag litter everywhere! One person my use 300-500 bags a year! All it took was a trip to the grocery store for me to confirm these numbers. I counted 173 bags leaving one lane in two hours.

Just as I was gathering research, a bill was introduced and passed in the Illinois State legislature that would BAR any village from banning plastic bags. It was introduced with the intention to increase the recycling of bags. It was a compromise reached by the retailers and the bag makers. Retailers would never have to deal with different local ordinances, bag makers could still make bags and representatives would feel good thinking they were helping the environment. Recycling rates for plastic bags is very low and the goal for this bill was not that much higher. Plastic bags do not get made into new plastic bags. There is no value to a recycled bag; it is cheaper to make a new one. More and more bags would still be introduced into the environment with this bill. If bag makers think that recycling is the solution, where is the public campaign? It has been reported that some recyclers are no longer accepting plastic bags because they cannot find buyers! The cost to sort is not worth it. Besides, recycling is just a Band-Aid and it makes us feel less guilty for using disposables. What was really scary was that this bill was going to set a precedent for other states and bag makers were influencing politicians! I now know what a lobbyist is!

What was I to do? A petition on Change.org was suggested. I petitioned my governor to veto this bill. With the help of social media and other activists around the country willing to help a 12 yr. old, I was able to get over 174,000 signatures. It wasn’t just my voice. Last summer I personally met and presented the petition to Governor Quinn and sent letters to all the state representatives. I am happy to report that he did veto the bill and it was not overruled.

Abby With Governor Quinn

Abby Goldberg with Illinois Governor QuinnPhoto: Jeff.A.Goldberg

Since then I have been very busy with my Facebook page. I have also spoken to a few school groups, environmental groups and written a few blogs. My page is a great way for me to promote bag legislation around the world and it has become a great place to debate recycling, biodegradable bags and how to kick the bag habit. This summer, I was asked to join a week long sailing expedition with 5 Gyres to help collect samples in the North Atlantic Gyre. Yes, there are more gyres in our ocean besides the Great Pacific Gyre/Garbage Patch! Pretty scary that I can go on a trip with the intent to study plastic pollution!

Abby Piloting Sea Dragon

Abby Piloting Sea DragonPhoto: Jeff.A.Goldberg

I was going to see it with my own eyes, learn how to collect samples, see how the plastic is moving and become an ambassador for our oceans. I knew I wouldn’t see tons of bags floating around. Most people don’t know that plastic breaks down into tiny bits because of wave action and from sunlight. The gyres do not contain floating islands of soda bottles and plastic candy wrappers that you can walk across and clean up; it is more like a soup. Although we did see plastic crates, foam and bottles. But mostly we saw plastic bits. “How much plastic is in the ocean? 3.2 billion lbs. from 3.3 trillion particles” (Marcus Eriksen 5 Gyres). These bits are tiny! And, they were in every sample we collected! What was really sad was that we sailed through the Sargasso Sea made up of Sargassum. This is a golden rainforest of the ocean. It was home to tiny creatures and fish. These animals are living in our trash and most likely eating these bits. Did you know that for some reason, plastic in our oceans attracts all sorts of toxic chemicals? These bits don’t just stay contained in gyres either. This is something to think about when you eat your next seafood dinner.

After this trip I was asked by Bring Your Bag Chicago and Alderman Moreno to testify at a Chicago Health and Environment Committee meeting at City Hall. The city is debating a plastic shopping bag ordinance. I was asked because of my success in getting the state bill vetoed and because of my perspective as a young person as a future custodian of our environment. I know that legislation is important because incentives are not working. I was also able to testify with crewmate, Stiv Wilson of 5 Gyres, who a few weeks later gathered samples of micro-plastics in the Great Lakes. Plastic pollution is not just a problem in our oceans! Hopefully we were able to convince some alderman of this fact! I am still waiting to hear when and if this ordinance will be passed.

A crewmate, Jennie Romer from PlasticBagLaws.org, made me realize that bags are like a “gateway drug” because they make you suddenly see OUR addictive use of all disposable plastics. There is no away, it is forever! Our addiction to this throw away culture is becoming a huge problem. I am only 14 and I already know plastic pollution’s true cost. To my generation, plastic bags in trees and in our waterways are just part of the landscape. What is most frustrating to me is that there is any easy alternative to plastic bags.

Together we need to rethink our habits and choose to be the change!