The Kritic

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.

Turtle Straw Nose

Olive Ridley Sea Turtle with straw up its nostrilSource: TKK

The above meme was obviously created to promote the banning of plastic straws. But what of the story behind the photo?[1]

Texas A&M University’s Christine Figgener and her research team were doing an in-water genetic study research trip in Costa Rica when they came across a male Olive Ridley sea turtle with something protruding from its left nostril. Their initial thinking was that they were looking at a parasitic worm.

After a short debate about what they should do they decided it needed to be removed. The only tool available on their small boat was a small pair of pliers on a Swiss army knife. The decision to remove it was based on:

  1. They were on the ocean
  2. They were in in a developing country a few hours away from the coast
  3. On reaching the coast they would still be several hours away from any vet (probably days from any vet specialised in reptiles, not to mention sea turtles) and an x-ray machine.
  4. They would have incurred a penalty (up to time in gaol) by removing the turtle from its area since it was beyond their research permits.

While trying to remove it they cut a small piece off to investigate it further and discovered that what they were really looking at was a plastic straw!

Below is the video of the removal of the offending plastic straw.

*********** WARNING: An expletive or two may be heard! *********

As it shows in the video the plastic straw ended up being about 10cm long and he obviously did not enjoy the procedure. There was quite a bit of blood flowing from his nostril but hopefully he can breath more freely now.

Most likely the turtle ate the straw and then regurgitated it where it ended up in the nasopharyngeal duct and poking out the nasal cavity. In sea turtles the nasopharyngeal duct connects the palate (roof of the mouth) to the nasal cavity.

This video is a great example as to why plastic trash is detrimental to marine life and why plastic straws, specifically, are one of the most superfluous items made out of plastic. Especially if they end up in our oceans.

SAY “NO” TO PLASTIC STRAWS!

The Plastic Pollution Coalition

The Plastic Pollution Coalition[2] (PPC) was founded in 2009 and its mission is to stop plastic pollution and its toxic impact on humans, animals and the environment as well as to amplify a common message through strategic planning and communication.

With over 500 member organisations and a growing coalition of individuals the PPC seek to increase understanding of the plastic pollution problem and to find sustainable solutions. They aim to empower more people and organisations to take action to stop plastic pollution and to live plastic-free.

The PPC in collaboration with the Texas A&M University’s Christine Figgener and her research team have launched a no straw campaign called “The Last Plastic Straw”.

The Last Plastic Straw

According to The Last Plastic Straw Campaign;[3] "Over 500,000,000 plastic straws are used each day in the United States alone. In only the past twenty years, people have come to expect plastic straws in every drink, in an example of extreme waste being generated for minimal convenience. These short-lived tools are usually dropped into a garbage can with no further thought, instantly becoming a source of plastic pollution."

"The Last Plastic Straw strives to educate the public about the absurdity of single use plastic, its effects on our health, our environment, and our oceans."

They are also promoting a grassroots campaign to encourage all individuals to push for change in bars, restaurants and take-away stores protocol and practices in their local communities around the world.

In Australia there is a similar campaign called “The Last Straw[4] which was founded by Eva Mckinley. Eva’s idea was conceived while she was working in a busy cafe in Hobart, Tasmania where she estimated that 20,000 plastic straws are used each year in that cafe alone. The Last Straw won an award at the Tasmanian Young Achievers Awards[5] in its first year.

The popular tourist town of Blackheath, in the Blue Mountains of NSW, became the world’s first town where all the shopfront businesses agreed to phase out plastic straws. With the town using 40,000 straws per month the 30 local businesses, including cafe owners, the servo, grocers, pubs, takeaway shop and deli, decided it was the most environmentally responsible solution to the problem.

This needs to be more than a trend. This must become an intentional and permanent move for everyone around the world to say “No” to plastic straws. Every time you order a drink politely request “No straw, thanks.” and also encourage your friends and family to do the same.

[1] The “photo is actually a screen grab from the video of the removal of the offending plastic straw.
[2] The Plastic Pollution Coalition – https://www.plasticpollutioncoalition.org/
[3] The Last Plastic Straw – https://thelastplasticstraw.org/
[4] The Last Straw – https://last straw.com.au/
[5] Tasmanian Young Achievers Awards – https://www.awardsaustralia.com/young-achiever-awards/tas/previous-winners/