Waste-not Want-not. Part 1: Straw-Less

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In this 3-part mini series, Ren Min highlights 3 common types of waste and their environmental impact, as well as simple actions we can all adopt to safeguard the environment we live in.

The afternoon sun blazes overhead. You order a cup of iced-kopi to escape from this ridiculous heat. The drink stall uncle sticks a long skinny plastic tube into your drink, no questions asked. As you sip your drink contentedly, WAIT!! What is that long skinny plastic tube? How does the uncle know you need that straw? Has it become an unspoken ‘necessity’?

In 2011, The Atlantic published an article on the history of straws we use today. First, there were ‘drinking tubes’ made of natural rye that left added flavours to whatever drink you were consuming (hooray?). Fortunately and unfortunately, the rye ‘drinking tubes’ shredded and broke down very easily. Marvin Chester Stone decided to improve on the ‘drinking tube’ and successfully invented a machine that made a tube out of paper. Since the paper straw made life much easier for special groups of people such as the elderly, it was very well received. Only through a combination of factors such as the rise of fast-food chains relying on disposables, increasing emphasis by consumers on convenience and of course, the creation of plastic, did this great invention for humanity evolve into an environmental nightmare instead.

Today, the world produces enough plastic (straws, plastic bags, bottles etc) each year to circle the Earth FOUR times. Unlike in the past when straws were biodegradable, plastic is regarded as a design-failure for its inability to be broken down within the human lifetime without releasing more harmful chemicals into the surrounding. Most types of plastic are not recyclable. For plastic that is recyclable, there is also a limit to the number of times we can recycle it.

Yes, the plastic straw you drank your last iced-kopi with is still somewhere in our landfill.

Not only are straws bad for our health, they are very harmful for our wildlife species. 100% of all turtle species and 80% of seabird species have already consumed plastics including straws. Straws are amongst the top 10 marine plastic debris collected during the annual International Coastal Clean Up. Some break down into very small pieces of plastic known as Microplastics which accumulate up the same marine food chain we rely upon for our seafood. But this gloomy reality does not have to be the future that we, our children and grandchildren will live in!

As individuals, we can ALL adopt 3 simple steps:

  1. Rethink the necessity of your drinking straw.
    If you are bringing your drink home, forgo the straw. Just pour it into a mug and enjoy it in a nice big gulp!
  2. Reduce our use of drinking straws.
    Commit to going ‘STRAWLESS’ once or twice a week! Invest in an environmentally friendly, safer alternative such as reusable metal straws which you can wash yourself.
  3. Refuse drinking straws and bring a smile to the drink stall uncle’s face!
    By giving out 1 less straw, he saves on costs (imagine the savings if more people follow suit!) and will be delighted when totaling up his profits at the end of the month.

The next time you order your iced-kopi, remember to slow down and ask yourself whether you REALLY NEED ANOTHER STRAW. Cheers to a straw-less future!

Follow Part II and III of the ‘Waste-not Want-not’ mini series in our upcoming newsletters!

Article by Oh Ren Min
Edited by Lavanya Raju Ramanujan