Published in The Herts Advertiser 17th August 2017
Are you reading this sipping an Aperol Spritz, iced coffee or maybe a super green smoothie, complete with a straw? Maybe not, but imagine the last time you did… Was there a straw, or maybe two tucked in your glass? What happened to it after you finished your drink?
In most bars, pubs, cafes, juice shops and homes, as soon as a straw is finished, after being used for a few minutes, it goes straight into the landfill bin. With so many big issues in the world right now, it might seem a very small thing, but a recent campaign in St Albans and Harpenden has opened my eyes. We have, as a global population, got used to using tons of disposable plastic, and the shocking fact is that most of it is not recycled. Straws are a great example of plastic items that are used for a very short time then thrown away; we can reuse water bottles and plastic containers but straws are sheer extravagance.
I met Emma Tyers who is behind the Refuse the Straw campaign in St Albans. She has, in just a few weeks, managed to contact a huge number of local food and drink businesses about this issue, and already 20 have stopped providing plastic straws, with most offering eco ones instead. Emma explained that “the campaign was inspired by Plastic Free July, an Australian initiative which has gone global, but the showing of Plastic Ocean as part of the Film Festival definitely spurred me on. Plastic straws are a great example of wastefulness, as they are a product which is usually totally unnecessary, used briefly, and usually not recycled. One person not getting a plastic straw may seem like a small step, but if we can get the whole town doing it, permanently, that will make a big difference'”.
The first evidence I saw of this was in The Beech House, which is a very busy cafe, restaurant and bar. They have a sign on the bar saying that they won’t automatically provide a straw, but you can ask if you need one. So far, no one has missed them!
Emma suggests that businesses can switch to more eco versions, such as recyclable paper or compostable starch-based PLA plastic straws. New products are being launched all the time, and businesses can find them easily online. The Green Kitchen on Hatfield Road uses washable steel ones, which I imagine would look really great in cocktail bars too.
So many local companies have decided to ditch plastic straws, that I can’t list them all, but at time of publication: Craft & Cleaver, Dylan’s, The Lower Red Lion, Bar Azita, Charlie’s, Lussmann’s, Smokehouse Deli, The Garibaldi, Blackberry Jack and the Oddysey cinema. Special mention must go to Inn on the Park, who not only have made the move to more eco straws, they are also getting rid of plastic butter packs and cups, using paper cones instead. The big chains are getting behind it too, with All Bar One phasing out plastic straws.
What can you do as a customer? You can simply decline if offered a straw, or if a straw is put in your drink, hand it back and maybe say that it’s not needed? As Emma told me “there will always be some people who do need one, but the rest of us can rediscover sipping and slurping”. Black plastic is apparently the worst to recycle, so ignore those containers of black cocktail straws you get on bar counters.
In just a short time Emma has made a real difference to the town’s wastefulness. Ideally, she’d like the whole town on board. It seems a no-brainer; it saves the business money and we don’t create plastic waste which is incredibly bad for the planet. If you are a business owner and would like to join the list, go to facebook stalbansrefusethestraw and twitter @starefusestraw.
More free water points would help get rid of the millions of plastic water bottles we use.