Growing up, I was always conscious of my footprint on the world; I hated waste, with a passion. My mum brought me up to eat everything on my plate (especially if I wanted dessert), and if I really couldn’t finish it, I’d have to scrape off the plate into the bin myself. It gave me this horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach, knowing that I was throwing away good food, and that other people around the world would be starving hungry. My friends would say things like, “Well you can’t exactly send your scraps on an airplane over to Africa, can you?”. That’s true, but didn’t solve the problem, or make me feel any better about wasting food.
As a child in England, recycling wasn’t something I was taught about, but towards the end of my time in school, the option to recycle was brought in. Other kids didn’t care, because they didn’t see the end result of where that plastic bottle ended up. It’s so easy to throw plastic away, because as soon as it’s in the bin, the issue is hidden, and it’s not your problem anymore.
The Household Waste Recycling Act 2003 required local authorities in England to provide every household with a separate collection of at least two types of recyclable materials by 2010. In 2015, a new environmental bill was put forward for schools, hospitals and businesses to separate recyclable materials from waste, which was made a law the following year. Around the same time, the nationwide plastic bag charge (of 5p) was brought in, causing an 83% fall in bag use. That’s 9 BILLION fewer plastic bags since the 5p charge was brought in.
NINE FUCKING BILLION.
Australia is obviously way bigger than the UK, and their recycling laws change from state to state. For example, South Australia brought in their bottle deposit scheme in 1977, where customers would receive a 10c refund per bottle, when they were returned to collection points. Northern Territory followed suit in 2012, and both New South Wales and Western Australia have brought in similar schemes since. Queensland is expected to do the same at some point in 2018, but being home to the Great Barrier Reef, you’d think they would want to be one of the first to lower plastic waste, of which 10% ends up in the ocean. Unfortunately, Australia doesn’t have the bag charge yet. Bunnings is the only store (at the moment) to voluntarily ban single use plastic bags, but supermarket giants Coles and Woolworths are both aiming to phase them out over the next year.
Do you remember seeing that video of a turtle with a straw stuck up it’s nose? Recently, social media has blown up with posts about saving the environment, and our impact on wildlife, marine life and plant life. Most people give it a sad face emoji and a share, but what are you actually changing, to decrease your plastic wastage?
A few weeks ago, I visited the Great Barrier Reef for the first time. It was the most incredible experience of my life, and was lucky enough to swim with a sea turtle (the very one in the cover photo of this article). Once we had arrived back on dry land, I couldn’t help but think about the turtle with the straw up its nose, as well as others videos I’d seen with the ocean full of plastic waste, or fish and birds with bellies full of junk. It really hit home.
Single use plastic items, such as straws, are an unnecessary luxury with a huge impact. One straw may not have a big effect, but in Australia alone, 10 millions straws are used every day. I can’t even fathom the USA’s straw wastage (500 million daily). It’s a serious issue, and the solution starts with you!
I’ve made it my personal goal to try and persuade every hostel (with a bar) that I stay in, to go straw-less, or at the very least, only serve one straw when it is specifically requested by the customer. I’m currently staying at Mad Monkey Calypso in Cairns, and after speaking to the manager, I’ve persuaded them to no longer automatically provide a straw with each drink, and potentially look at phasing out straws altogether. This would make them the first straw-less hostel bar in Queensland.
The next time you consider using a single use straw, remember that takes around 200 years to decompose, which means it will outlive YOU. Think before you drink.