Every once and a while, amongst all the trash on Facebook, you scroll to find something worth watching - and worth talking about.
Nuseir Yassin, known as Nas Daily online, shared a video on Facebook titled “The Plastic Straw Dilemma” a little while ago. Nas starts off by sharing an experience he had recently at a McDonalds restaurant, where he got a drink, but no plastic straw to stab through the plastic cup lid. Nas looks around and sees other plastic items everywhere and meat, which contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions.
According to Clean Up Australia, plastic straws are the 12th most common item reported by volunteers. Single use plastic straws have a detrimental impact on our environment and we have gone to great lengths to ban, or at least, reduce the amount plastic straws we use once and throw out.
“Single use straws are definitely a problem and they are something we do not need in our lives, but they are very low down on the list on what we should be focusing on,” says Jessica Brading, founder of Clear Tides. “I used to think it was only bad in countries that had poor waste management systems. The more I open my eyes to my surroundings I see that the problem is ever so real in our own backyard.”
The concept Nas talks about in his video is “selective empathy”, an uncomfortable truth which exploits how we as humans are conditioned to care about a small part of a bigger problem. Selective empathy goes beyond just plastic, as Nas points out it’s having compassion for a pet, but slaughtering a cow, how one human death may deeply upset us, yet thousands of brutal deaths don’t affect us.
Aussie’s reportedly produce 3 million tonnes of plastic every year on average, according to WWF, with 130,000 tonnes ending up in our oceans. While it’s great we’ve become more environmentally conscious and most of us have stopped sucking on plastic straws, we seem to disregard all the other plastic we use; plastic bags, water bottles, coffee cups, the wrapping on our food.
Minimising waste and the use of single-use plastics is something we have control over. Plastic straws are on the way out, however they are a small part of the problem and there’s still so much we can do.
The Bigger Picture
Through doing beach cleans, Jess says the most common trash items she finds tend to be soft plastics.
“Plastic bags, food wrappers, cling wrap,” she says. “These are heartbreaking to see on the beach because they break up in hundreds of smaller bits of soft plastic and are often clear in colour which makes it very easy for animals to consume them.
“My biggest concern is the amount of soft plastics used for our food packaging. Yes, we need to reduce our use of plastic straws, single use water bottles and plastic bags but the plastic item that is highest within households is plastic food packaging!”
Investing in a reusable water bottle or a keep cup for your coffee, opting to prepare your own food before going to school or work, bringing your own cutlery, even buying a steel or bamboo straw - all are easy ways you to cut out unnecessary plastic waste on a day-to-day basis.
Shopping plastic free at the supermarket is difficult, Jess advises to buy bulk and choose fresh produce not wrapped in plastic when possible. Start with small changes and go from there. We buy items covered in plastic without even thinking and it’s a tough habit to break. Yes, some items with sustainable packaging may be more expensive and you may need to shop at a few different stores to find items, but if you’re so concerned about straws ending up in the ocean, why aren’t you just as concerned about other plastics.
Consumers can inspire change
In July 2018, McDonald’s Australia announced its commitment to phasing out plastic straws from their restaurants across the country by 2020 and they are working with local suppliers to find sufficient alternatives. McDonald’s is also partnered with Simply Cups, trialling a recycling system in eight restaurants across Australia. This ensures the cups, which have inner plastic lining are recycled correctly.
Other huge companies are also following suit and taking steps to eliminate plastic straws, like Hungry Jacks and IKEA. Starbucks has even designed and developed a straw-less lid.
These changes are exciting, not only are massive global companies doing their bit to help the environment, but this also makes way for important conversations. As consumers, we have a lot of influence. Massive corporations strive to satisfy and meet our needs, if we make it clear we’re unhappy with the amount of plastic packaging being used, the only solution is to seek out an alternative.
“My biggest concern is the lack of education regarding this issue though,” Jess says.
“Everyone is being educated on how to not use a reusable water bottle and say no to straws but how about reducing the plastic the rules our lives. Grocery shopping, kids toys, homewares - we have adopted a very bad mentality of saying “just chuck it in the bin” if something if broken, or old, or we simply don’t want it anymore. But where is “the bin”? The bin is our soil… our waterways. I hope we can change this mindset and really reduce plastic production from the source.”
We will probably spend many years trying to find a way to resolve the great plastic issue and it is a problem beyond Australian shores, but it’s small things we can do that make a difference.
Act locally, think globally.