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BW Businessworld

Your Choice Matters: The Hidden Cost Of Plastic Straws

In an exclusive interview with BW Businessworld, Priyanka Kalra, Umang Manchanda & Mallika Arya, co-founders of No Straws Attached discuss the environmental impact and ecological footprint of plastic straws, and how there is a need to shift to environmentally conscious consumer choices with respect to plastic straws

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Sustainability or environment protection sometimes implies making the right choices as a consumer, and being conscious about how our habits may affect the larger environment we are a part of. Something as common-place as using a straw has a high ecological footprint, and given the rate of consumption when it comes to straws, as well as their non-biodegradability, it is important that everyone is cognizant about how their choices with respect to using a plastic straw have a huge environmental impact. In an exclusive interview with BW Businessworld, Priyanka Kalra, Umang Manchanda & Mallika Arya, co-founders of No Straws Attached discuss the environmental impact and ecological footprint of plastic straws, and how there is a need to shift to environmentally conscious consumer choices with respect to plastic straws. Edited excerpts: 

Why is the production of plastic straws, an unsustainable affair? Why is it detrimental to the environment?

While we might think of it as just a straw, almost an invisible utility item for most, the accumulation of this toxic plastic in our oceans and landfills make it an unsustainable affair. Statistics tell us that over 500 million plastic straws are used daily in the US alone, now imagine how many straws would be used across the world, every day. While for us, once these straws are out of our sight, they are also out of our minds, but every plastic straw anyone has ever used is still somewhere on this planet.

How are plastic straws polluting the ocean?

A majority of our plastic trash which cannot be decomposed is thrown into the ocean. It is such an easy thing to do because the ocean is not the habitat of humans, but what is often forgotten is that the ocean is home for millions of species whose homes we are polluting. They enter the diet of marine animals and also choke them, making it impossible for them to breathe. According to research done by Ellen Macarthur foundation, if we keep going this way, by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. Also, the production of plastic straws means extraction of more resources like oil, which also pollutes the ocean and exhausts our natural resources.

Why is the waste generated by disposal of plastic straws in landfills, a huge environmental disaster?

Plastic straws take 100s of years to decompose and as mentioned above, we use over 500 million straws a day in just one country! We are polluting our land and oceans at a much faster rate than it can recover, killing millions of species by our apathy. Also, with the plastic waste increasing, more spaces for these landfills are needed. This affects communities that are settled close to these landfills, by polluting their water and resources and also takes up valuable space.

How did the idea of No Straws Attached come about?

The three co-founders have been avoiding straws and disposable plastics personally for a while, but it never felt like we were doing enough. Even at restaurants when we would ask the server for no straws, they would either forget or the bar would put it in the drink anyway. Once in the drink, it doesn't matter if you use it or not, it will be chucked out anyway. It was to put a stop this habit of serving a straw and using it permanently that No Straws Attached came about.

What would you suggest to people who insist on using straws or find them convenient?

Well, if you have to use them, switch to reusable straws. Always have either a bamboo or steel straw in your bag. The three co-founders carry reusable cutlery in their bag so they can avoid plastic cutlery when eating out. These small measures can go a big way in fixing our planet!

How can a behavioral change be instituted within people to not demand straws, given they are environmentally unsustainable?

Plastic straw usage is a habit that has been inculcated in us for decades now and has become unquestioned. To break this cycle and habit, people will have to be made aware of just how toxic a plastic straw is and what harm it can do. Once people start associating a straw with its harms, they’ll actively start to avoid it and once enough people start to avoid it, the habit would break naturally. Another more efficient way of going about it can be to ask restaurants, bars and cafes to take a strong stand against serving straws. Through this step, not only are they curbing the plastic straw waste, but also making their customers aware of the harm this straw causes to the environment. The change will only come when we actively stop and become aware of the toxicity of this passive behaviour.

What can be the changes made from the supply end? How can businesses shift to sustainable replacements for straws?

Paper straws, which are biodegradable in nature, were much more common before 1960s, but after the 1960s, the manufacturers started producing plastic straws in bulk making them cheaper for businesses to buy plastic straws, making paper straws a pipe dream. Primarily, businesses can stop serving plastic straws altogether. Many bars and restaurants in the UK and the US have already done this and some restaurants in Bangalore, India have also taken this step. But until and unless this step is taken by all business owners, the impact will be minimal. Businesses can also switch to reusable bamboo or steel straws which can be served to customers who insist on using a straw.

What are some of the ways in which the economics of plastic straw consumption and production be altered?

When it comes to decreasing the sales of single-use plastic items, heavy taxation on the same can be levied. While Karnataka put a blanket ban on plastic, owners and distributors always find ways around such regulations. By making single-use plastic so expensive that it isn’t profitable to use it anymore, the government can help curb the proliferation of the same. At the same time, incentivising businesses to use sustainable practices by giving them tax breaks and funding research into sustainable materials to phase out plastic cutlery, straws and packaging could do wonders for owners to take up environment-friendly practices. At the end of the day, businesses will focus on profits, policy change is the only way these practices can be curbed and monitored.


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