Small actions, big impact: The Last Straw

Eva Mackinley is the passionate and determined founder of The Last Straw, a campaign to reduce the use of plastic straws in venues across Australia (and beyond). The Last Straw targets both venues and consumers. It asks consumers to ‘sip, don’t suck’ and forgo plastic straws when they order drinks out, while encouraging venues to give out less straws and help reduce waste through responsible disposal of used straws. We spoke to Eva to learn more about how she came to create The Last Straw and what she hopes to achieve through it. [embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x0ywTO-K56M&feature=youtu.be[/embed]

On starting The Last Straw:

I have worked in hospitality for a long time to fund my social volunteerism. I always saw the two things as completely separate, but one day as I was dumping a bucket load of used straws in the bin, I asked myself for the first time where they would actually be going. I did a bit of research about straw use and the impact of mass plastic waste and figured this was something that needed to change in a big way. There are so many campaigns and organisations out there striving to reduce plastic waste, which is amazing to see. We like to see our point of difference as working with venues, who are some of the biggest sources of straw waste. The more of us out there advocating for this cause, the better.

Staggering stats:

In my hospitality job – in a moderately busy Hobart bar – we'll go through maybe 20,000 straws a year. Now imagine how many venues there are in Melbourne and Sydney alone, and how many more straws they would be using and throwing out as they go. That doesn't even take into account the big franchises like McDonald’s and KFC. Estimations from the United States are that they will use and discard 500,000,000 plastic straws every day. These straws don't just disappear when they're put in the bin. They either go to landfill or they go into our waterways. You start to get an idea of just how massive this problem is. We at The Last Straw see plastic straws as an unnecessary luxury with a massively negative impact. There is a big disconnect between what people hold in their hands or put on their plates and where it comes from or what it means for the world on the big scale.

Plastic straws are a perfect example – people don't need them, at all. They are nothing more than a convenience, yet because of social convention they are slowly clogging up our waterways and our landfill to the tune of hundreds of millions per day across the globe. Would anyone use them if they understood the impact they were having? Hopefully not. The Last Straw is about encouraging behaviour changes in venues and consumers to stem the tide of unnecessary plastic waste going over the bar every day.

How to support The Last Straw campaign:

First and foremost it’s about reducing overall usage – just stop using straws altogether. For businesses, it's about getting staff to promote that idea and stop just serving one or two straws in every drink they put across the bar. There are definitely a bunch of great alternatives out there – stainless steel or glass straws that are reusable in the same way that knives and forks are used and washed and reused at a restaurant. There's no reason why straws have to be disposable. There is also a lot of great work happening in the bioplastics sphere; creating substances that mimic plastic and are biodegradable from all natural materials. There are still a lot of teething problems in bringing bioplastic alternatives into the mainstream. They have to be disposed of in particular composting facilities to actually biodegrade, and current manufacturing of these straws comes mostly from corn, which puts pressure on an already stretched food resource. But further developments in the field in years to come will hopefully see us with a fully biodegradable straight replacement for the plastic straw. For now, just don't use them!

Advice on how to help a cause you care about:

At the heart of The Last Straw is the idea that we all have to do less harm as well as doing more good.

Sometimes the best way to help a cause you care about is to alter your lifestyle a little. Buy and use a keep cup; bring your own bags to the supermarket; buy self care products that don't use microbeads or animal testing; go vegetarian or vegan for a few days a week. All this really adds up if everyone starts doing it. That is where the big change starts. It's in all of our hands to make choices and live in a way that is beyond just ourselves and our immediate wants and conveniences. In terms of doing more good: volunteer, volunteer and volunteer. It is the best way to add value to a cause. Most organisations are pretty strapped when it comes to financial resources, so any services or person power that they don't have to pay for is an amazing contribution. It also allows you to learn and grow and be a part of a community of like-minded people.

On an end note:

We've just launched, and we've got some big plans on the horizon! If you'd like to learn more or get involved, check out laststraw.com.au or email hello@laststraw.com.au.

Benojo connects those who want to give with those in need. If you want to discover even more charities that match your desire to give contact us to learn more about our work.


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