Are Plastic Straw Bans Creating More Harm Than Good?

If you’ve found yourself on our website, undoubtedly, you want to help create a world with clean oceans and waterways. Like us, you want our global community to stop treating plastic, a highly durable material, as something that is ‘disposable’. You want a society that is conscious of its impact on this planet, and acts accordingly.

We want that too.

Like the rest of the community fighting to rid out world of plastic pollution, we agree that plastic straws are, for the most part, unnecessary and incredibly harmful to our planet. Over the past four years, we’ve collected thousands of straws on Australian beaches. We’ve ‘strawkled’ with Operation Straw in Manly Harbour. We’ve even created our own reusable straws to help individuals and businesses move away from plastic straws.

‘Just ban them already!’ were words that frequently left our lips, and to us it was as simple as that. But when we learned that proposed plastic straw bans were a cause for concern for those in our community living with disability, or recovering from injury, we realised we had been inadvertently approaching this issue from a very ‘ableist’ perspective.

Fortunately, recent Trash Tribe volunteer and Founder of Nature Freedom, Mathew Townsend opened our eyes to how outright bans on plastic straws will exclude individuals who suffer from a wide-range of disabilities and rely on the use of plastic straws to eat, drink, and live independently.

Why Plastic?

For people living with disability or recovering from injury, the flexibility, low cost, and accessibility of plastic straws, makes them the number one choice in comparison to today’s more sustainable alternatives.

In other words, with paper straws becoming soggy and a potential chocking hazard, metal and bamboo straws being rigid and hazardous for individuals who have mobility issues or difficulty controlling their bite, and biodegradable straws being deemed unsuitable for beverages over 37 degrees celsius, plastic straws remain the only practical solution for people with disabilities.

Therefore, banning plastic straws from restaurants, bars and cafes, without an interchangeable alternative already in place, would lead to unintended consequences and additional hardships and costs for members of the disabled community.

Have we been unintentionally excluding people by helping hospitality venues ditch plastic straws? Not exactly the conscious and caring world we had been striving to create.

What can we do?

Disability advocates aren’t calling for us to keep plastic straws around forever. Instead, groups around the world are challenging large businesses to invest in the research and development of a widely accessible and sustainable substitute that appeals to both the objective of the environmentalist and the necessity of those with disabilities. A straw that doesn’t exclude people, but also doesn’t damage the environment. Alternatively, instead of bans, they are calling for ‘straws on request’ programs to cut down on plastic straw usage in venues.

After all, when it’s all boiled down, large companies do have the power and means to create an inclusive community. This change merely comes down to a willingness to invest time and money into a more sustainable product.

Needless to say, we all need to continue to fight for a plastic-free future, however let’s not lose sight of the bigger picture in our campaigns and proposed solutions. While outright bans are the quickest way to force behavioural change, perhaps we need to take a slower route to ensure inclusivity.

If you’re joining us in our fight to protect the environment, I urge you to keep your eyes and ears open, be willing to listen to different perspectives, and be ready to change your idea of a solution. We need to fight to protect the environment for future generations, but let’s ensure that we’re also fighting to create a world that is inclusive of all people.

To learn more about this issue from people living with disabilities themselves, please read the articles below:


We would love to hear your thoughts and opinions on this issue!

Trash Tribe 2018: Chilli Beach

 

We cram in our vehicles and drive two days to Cape York, a large remote peninsula in far North Queensland.  The beaches are breathtaking and the water is crisp, but taking a closer look, the issue became clear; the largest unspoiled wilderness area in northern Australia is littered with plastic. Soon, that’s all you can see.

 

“Every direction you looked there was rubbish of every kind scattered…every piece of rubbish picked up revealed another. It was easy to spend 30-45 minutes sitting in the same spot, meticulously picking everything around you.” – Sam D.

 

Days were long but stoke was high. After a quick cup of coffee and group debrief, we take to the beach, splitting up into groups of “collectors” and “sorters”. With the help of our partner organisation, Tangaroa Blue, we begin collecting data on what types of plastics we are finding on this remote beach.

The final day of our trip, a storm hits Chilli Beach, bringing with it a large wave of new plastic littering our freshly cleaned beach. Whether brought by the ocean or hidden under the sand that got washed away with the tide, hearts are heavy as we realise the 3.6 tonnes of rubbish we had removed from the beach, was only a temporary fix. This storm is a harsh reality check, but only further fuels our desire to one day rid the ocean of plastic pollution.

 

“I think the largest impact the trip had on me was just how far ocean debris can travel before landing on the Australian coast. We were able to identify which country certain plastic bottles came from by the labels and markings still visible on the side. Some of the bottles and rubbish had come as far as Fiji and Indonesia…it highlights that ocean pollution is a world problem and not just about changing our own habits but for the world population to also look at re-education of what consumables we use and how we dispose of them.” – Sean W. 

 

We all came from diverse backgrounds, carrying our own frustrations regarding plastic pollution, and sharing a deeply rooted appreciation for nature. Although, recruiting like-minded individuals is the easy part. The real question is, how about those who have never had access to nature? How do we instill a love for and desire to protect the places that fail to hold significance for many individuals?

 

“It is definitely hard to explain to people…people are interested but they can’t really understand unless they’ve seen it. Also, all my friends here in Asia live in massive mega-cities where they have never seen a national park or a uncrowded beach, so it’s hard for them to understand the intrinsic value of and love for the environment… I think I will need to concentrate…on not getting bogged down by the scale of the problem and giving up, but staying motivated to inspire change in all factions of society.” – Ciara G. 

 

Speaking with our Trash Tribe post-trip, the final message is clear: we can’t just do cleanups and expect change.  All the plastic and rubbish we pick up today will simply be replaced by more tomorrow. Change has to come from the source. So don’t get discouraged! Focus on the small changes you can make, educate those around you who are willing to learn, take more people outside and allow them to fall in love with the places you want to protect. It’ll take time, but don’t worry, we’re already on our way to the #cleancoastlife.


Data Sample:

Total Weight: 3,646 Kilos

Plastic fragments: 57,185

Bottle lids: 12,763

Rubber thongs: 614

Plastic bottles: 1,965

Rope & Nets: 1,486


Want to get involved? Click here to learn more about our Application process! 

 

Huge thank you to Patagonia Byron Bay for funding this years exhibition through their Environmental Grants Program!

Photo: @hutchcroft
Photo: @hutchcroft
Photo: @hutchcroft
Photo: @woodchopwood
Photo: @ellerykr
Photo: @woodchopwood

 

Photo: @woodchopwood

 

Plastic Free July For Beginners

Plastic Free July. You may have heard those three little words being thrown around a lot lately – a whole month without plastic? Are they for real?! Yes, we are for real. But no, you won’t have to turf out every single plastic item in your house on 1 July (yes, your plastic TV can stay).

First things first, Plastic Free July is about going a month without generating any plastic landfill waste – of course, there are things in our world that need to be made from plastic, like medical equipment. So before you you start itemising your furniture based on material composition, perhaps it’s easier to think of this as ‘Disposable* Plastic’ Free July. This is about ridding your household wheelie bin of plastics (your plastic wheelie bin can stay too).

If this seems like the craziest, most impossible, task in the world, then read on, my friend – here is our quick-fire guide to attempting Plastic Free July for the very first time.

1. It’s time to think trashy thoughts

Before you set down this path to plastic freedom, you need to start taking note of what plastic waste you are currently creating. Ignorance is bliss, but right now you need to take stock of what ends up in your rubbish bin. Think about what you bought or consumed yesterday – was it packaged? Was the packaging recyclable? What do you remember putting in the bin yesterday? For the forgetful types, you might want to take a peek in your bin and see what plastics are clogging it up. Knowing what plastics you’re already sending to landfill will make you more aware of what you need to avoid during July.

2. Are you a bit-by-bit person, or more all-or-nothing?

We like to think of the plastic-free journey like a diet – for some, diving in full-hog is a sure-fire way to success, while for others small changes are the key to lifelong habits. So which approach do you think will work best for you? Decide if you want to accept the challenge to cut out all plastics from your life for a whole month, or if you feel more comfortable tackling a few select items. If you’re the latter you might want to focus on cutting out ‘the big 4’ – takeaway coffee cups, plastic beverage bottles, plastic bags and plastic drinking straws.

3. To jar or not to jar

If you’re feeling game, keep a jar of all your plastic mishaps during the month. Make it a competition between you and your housemates or colleagues, and see who has the least amount of plastic in their jar come 1 August. Keeping a mental note of any slip-ups is also fine if you’re shy about putting your trash on display.

4. Keeping clean without plastics

Let’s go through this room-by-room. Our bathrooms are full of plastics that we may, or most likely, may not, need. If your cupboards and drawers are brimming with plastic packaging, take a moment to see what you can go without. There are lots of plastic-free bathroom products available – swap your body soap and shampoos for bar alternatives (Ethique has some soap bars for every part of your bod); opt for a plastic-free deodorant (Ethique has some solid deodorant bars too, or try making your own with bicarb soda, arrowroot powder and coconut oil); give DIY toothpaste a whirl (bicarb soda, coconut oil and food-grade peppermint essential oil); and the easiest of all, switch to a bamboo toothbrush (check out our bamboo toothbrush sets here).

5. Cooking without plastics

This might seem like the most daunting part of all – how to stay fed and nourished without all the plastics and packaging. Don’t worry, it’s not as hard as it sounds. The key to keeping plastics at bay in the kitchen is just a little bit of planning and preparation. Opt for the unpackaged fruit and vege at the supermarket – for loose leaf items, use the paper mushroom bags instead of the thin plastic bags. For your grains, nuts, spices, flours and other dry foods, your local bulk food store is your best ally – here you can buy your dry goods in paper bags, or take your empty jars and vessels to fill with your goodies. The best part about shopping in bulk is that you can buy as much, or as little, as you need. Check out The Source and Naked Foods for some stores near you. Get back to basics and cook with real produce and ingredients – skipping the processed treats are the easiest way to avoid plastics (remember, we said it was like a diet!).

6. Out and about

You can be on your best behaviour at home, but slip-ups are most likely to occur when you’re eating and drinking out on the town. Find your voice and get ready to pep up with a ‘No…, please’ at every encounter – ‘No straw, please’, ‘No bag, please’, ‘No plastic cutlery, please’. You might have to repeat yourself a few times too. If you’re out and have forgotten to bring your own coffee cup, cutlery, or straw, take the time out to eat-in. Remember, this is about slowing down and consciously consuming – you can spare the 5 minutes to drink your coffee sitting down in your favourite cafe, or eating your lunch at the restaurant rather than at your desk. Treat yourself!

7. get back on the horse

Lastly, this is a journey and on a journey we make mistakes, hit roadblocks, take the wrong turn and sometimes have to make a u-turn – if you slip up and find yourself lumped with some plastic, don’t beat yourself up. It happens to us all. Pick yourself (and the plastic) up, dust yourself off and get back on that horse. The longer you stay in this plastic-free journey, the easier it will become.

 

Don’t forget to register for Plastic Free July and feel free to share you own plastic-free tips and tricks in the comments below! Let’s learn from each other.

 

*P.S. While we say ‘disposable’ plastics, that really is a misnomer because no plastic is disposable – like diamonds, plastics are forever – but for the sake of this, let’s consider ‘disposable’ plastics as things you turf into the bin when you’re done with them.