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!

Organic Crew: fashion that treads lightly

Introducing another partner for this year’s Trash Tribe expedition to Chilli Beach – the wonderful folk over at Organic Crew. You may have noticed our tribe rocking the beautiful organic cotton tees that Organic Crew created for the expedition. Read more about the brand below.

We love the story behind Organic Crew – can you tell us how you went from working in the corporate world to starting a sustainable, ethical and organic clothing brand?

The seed was planted when I was quite young and working at Esprit with a visionary leader who cared. His name was John Bell and he taught me that you had to be mindful of every part of the process and do as little harm as possible (to the environment, animals and people) whilst creating beautiful product.  More recently, I have worked for some larger corporates and seen firsthand the effects of fast fashion – I wanted to create a brand that manufactured the right way, stood for something, and inspired and educated.

Tell us why organic cotton is so important for the health of our planet and our bodies?

The way organic cotton is grown is better for the planet, the animals and the people who tend to the crops. The process uses way less water and the waste is clean. The effect of organic cotton on our bodies is non-toxic, which is so important as reducing the volume of toxins we are exposed to on a daily basis is important. You need to do what you can.

Do you think there is a trend towards more companies using organic textiles, or is there still a long way to go?

Prior to starting Organic Crew, I ran a cold pressed juice company and could see the growth of organic in the food industry. I think there is a movement happening where people now care about what goes into their food and onto their skin. So the movement has started with food, then moved to skincare and now clothing. The skin is the largest organ in the body and therefore can absorb the most chemicals. People are beginning to understand the differences and effects.

Melbourne was the original hub of Australian fashion, why was it so important for you to produce your garments in Melbourne rather than offshore?

It was very important as I needed to be able visit the factory and oversee what was happening at every point. We have just been accredited by Ethical Clothing Australia who have very strict guidelines on the use of labour and conditions. I wanted complete transparency and having a factory located in Melbourne made this possible. It was also so nice to go “old school” in our approach. I grew up working in fashion and to be able to give these local factories the work when so many go offshore felt so good. One of our garment workers has been sewing in our factory for 38 years! Plus the quality is amazing, you will see this in our garments, they are made with love!

What advice would you give to other brands wanting to start using more sustainable textiles or produce in Australia?

It is possible and there are so many options in terms of materials. The margins are obviously lower given the local production but the quality is amazing and the people are so great to work with. It is definitely a growth category and demand is rising. I know our factory makes many well known Australian brands with more coming on board every day.

Lastly, why did you want to support the Trash Tribe expedition as a brand partner?

We are passionate about the environment and making a small difference where we can. We heard about the Trash Tribe whilst on holiday in Byron Bay and wanted to help in any way we could. Our beaches are the best in the world and we all need to look after the country we are so blessed to live in. We are so grateful that we could contribute to this initiative and hope that education and awareness will lead to cleaner beaches in the future.

@mishkusk wearing @organic.crew at Chilli Beach, Cape York

Surf Collective: supporting independent labels

There was a time when the surf retail industry was dominated by the big name brands, but now we see more and more smaller independent brands emerging – brands that care for the environment, brands that are more interested in slow fashion, brands run by surfers like you and me!

We spoke to one of our partners, Surf Collective, about how they’re supporting small independent surf brands.

 

Firstly, can you share with us the inspiration and story behind Surf Collective?
We were inspired to launch Surf Collective with a very simple, clear ambition… to promote and support smaller, independent Aussie surf brands. Our purpose is to provide these brands a greater voice, by connecting them to each other in one place, so customers all over the world can more easily find them. We’d noticed a number of small surf brands at local markets with some really amazing products. And whilst most had their own website, they struggled to reach critical mass and move beyond being a side gig. So at the end of 2015 we launched with just 12 small brands and now, less than 2 years later, have over 75 brands on board – across fashion, art, jewellery and hardware.

There certainly seems to be more smaller independent surf brands on the scene these days – have you seen a shift in the surf industry with more of these brands emerging? Or are we just more aware of them now?

I believe there are more of these smaller independent surf brands these days and hopefully we are contributing to people being more aware of them too! Technology such as the web and e-commerce have certainly helped budding entrepreneurs cost effectively get their businesses off the ground and into distant markets. Culturally too, people have changed. There is increasing consumer interest in an organisation’s philosophy – where their products are made, what environmental impact they have, what the quality is like and how profits are utilised. You only have to look at the growing popularity of Farmers’ markets around Australia to see evidence of this.

Do you think the average surfer is increasingly looking to support and engage with smaller brands these days?

I do…though not necessarily because the brands are small but because of what they are motivated by. The ‘average surfer’, like most people, wants to feel engaged and enjoy an emotional connection with a brand. To feel appreciated as a customer and know there is an interesting story behind the brand…that they care not just about making a profit but in making a difference. As companies grow they often lose sight of why they started in the first place – though Patagonia is a powerful exception to the rule! We’d like to think that as our collective grows, we will remain true to our
original brand ambition.

Not only does Surf Collective support independent brands, but you’re also encouraging the next generation of entrepreneurs – can you tell us about your high school initiative?

Sure. Last year we approached our local high school, Barrenjoey High, and proposed a way we could help bring a subject to life for their students. The school was very receptive to the idea and suggested the Year 10 Business Studies class would be ideal. So we had the kids develop ideas for a surf-related product together with a marketing and business plan, with $2,000 up for grabs for the winner, to help bring his/her product to market. Some worked in a group and others individually. I spent some time in a few of the classes providing feedback before we put the kids in front of our
very own ‘Shark-Tank’ – a few of our local brand guys – to pitch their ideas. The eventual winner presented a great idea to recycle unwanted skateboard decks and convert them into wax combs – clever and environmentally responsible! We’re going to promote her idea on our website and in our retail collab, the Sneaky Grind Café, in Avalon Beach. The winner plans to make other products under her company, ‘The Coastal Upcycling Co. The program was so successful in engaging the kids
in their studies that we’re going to be repeating it next year!

You recently partnered with us to help fund our recent expedition to Cape York to remove over 7 tonnes of marine debris off a remote beach – why did Surf Collective want to be involved in this trip?

We just love what you guys are doing and we want to support causes that are close to our hearts and aligned with our brand philosophy. You’ve done an amazing job and we know it’s just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the potential you have for meaningful change.

What can we expect to see next with Surf Collective?

We will continue to provide an online platform and new ways to support and promote our collective of amazing, independent brands. Each has a great story with products uniquely different to the mainstream offering. Our aim is to make more people aware of these brands and provide an easy
way to discover them. We’ll be doing more markets and events this coming summer and we’re also looking into some pop-up stores!

You can explore Surf Collective’s range of independent surf brands on their website: www.surfcollective.com.au

Earth Bottles: Stopping Plastic Pollution At The Source

We love Earth Bottles and they have been big supporters of our clean up expeditions for a long time. This year, they’re a brand partner for our 2017 Cape York Trash Tribe expedition. We spoke to the creator of Earth Bottles, Danni Carr, on her vision and passion for our oceans.

 

Tell us what inspired Earth Bottles.

Initially the idea for doing water bottles came about after many trips to Bali – we are always down on the beach and I was continually appalled by the amount of plastic water bottles on the beach and in the waterways. At the same time, I was looking for more eco friendly products for Ash’s merchandise (my husband is a musician) and decided it would be a great idea to do a really good quality water bottle. So, after some research I found the bottles I liked and had Ash’s logo printed on them. They sold so well that we decided I should start my own company with my own logo – and that’s pretty much how it started!

 

Just last week, our clean up partner organisation Tangaroa Blue removed over 10,000 plastic water bottles from a beach on the west coast of Cape York – with so many plastic bottles polluting our oceans and waterways, what keeps you hopeful about the state of our oceans and planet?

10,000!!! That’s INSANE! I feel that the more educated people get about the plastic pollution problem, the more people will be aware and start to make changes. People like you guys (Clean Coast Collective) and other organisations, music festivals, touring acts, and some councils are helping to make people aware of the damage that all this plastic is causing, to make better choices and to clean up – I’m very hopeful.

I think every little change can make a difference. We had a big spike in sales last month and (we live in Bali but) I am told that there has been some really great documentaries screening in Australia about plastic pollution – this is great and will help to get the message across to the wider community. So we can see that from those docos, that there are people making changes, which is great!

 

As a company trying to rid the world of single-use plastic bottles, do you think there is a trend towards consumers using reusable bottles?

Absolutely! There are heaps of awesome water bottles and eco-friendly companies out there making lots of great alternatives available for people. I notice more and more these days when we travel that people have their reusable water bottles in hand or are carrying reusable bags, much more than ten years ago. I think it’s pretty uncool to be seen with a plastic water or plastic shopping bag these days.

 

Besides offering an alternative to single-use plastic bottles, Earth Bottles supports a number of social and environmental causes – can you share with us the causes your bottles support and why you chose each of them?

At Earth Bottles we support charities that are close to our own hearts, so we donate a percentage of profits to the Breast Cancer Network of Australia – my sister came through a long breast cancer battle and I know a lot of women still fighting and who have fought breast cancer. The work that BCNA do for those women and their families is amazing, so we brought in the pink bottles and we donate 25% of the sales of those bottles to the BCNA.

The same for Beyond Blue (with our turquoise bottle) who are an amazing resource for those suffering from mental illness. We also recently teamed up with 15 Trees, a really amazing organisation where anyone can buy credits to plant a tree. I think one tree costs around $4.50 to planet, so for each gift pack sold, we plant a tree. Recently we attended the Finders Keepers market in Melbourne and for each bottle we sold, we planted a tree.

We also support other small community charities and fundraisers when we can.

 

Corporate greed has done so much damage to our society, so to be a company that gives and is not just driven by profits makes me feel that, in a very small way, my little company is making a difference and that makes me happy.

 

Why is it important for Earth Bottles to give back as a brand?

It’s very important to me personally to give back to those who are also giving so much. It is really important to keep these organisations going and supported so they can continue the work they do. Corporate greed has done so much damage to our society, so to be a company that gives and is not just driven by profits makes me feel that, in a very small way, my little company is making a difference and that makes me happy.

 

It’s all about educating our kids and if their voices are loud enough the government and big corporations will have no choice but to be more ethical and more eco friendly.

 

As mothers, do you feel hopeful about where our world is headed and the state of the natural world?

Um… I AM hopeful. I am hopeful that we will ALL education our kids to make the right choices and to tread lightly on the planet. It’s all about educating our kids and if their voices are loud enough the government and big corporations will have no choice but to be more ethical and more eco friendly.

 

What does the future hold for Earth Bottles?

Well, we are starting to branch out into some different countries – Europe, Japan, New Zealand and the US. I am just trying to take it slowly as I’m still learning about this whole business caper. As long as it is still fun and a great environment to work in, then we will take each day as it comes and see where we end up!

 

Grab an Earth Bottle for yourself on their website: earthbottles.com.au