Three women taken on the plastic straws menace

Meena Azzollini

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Have you noticed that most things around you are made of plastic? You are touching plastic every few seconds—from your toothbrush to your computer keyboard. It’s in your car, in your apartment, in your clothes -- practically everything you use.

Plastic is cheap, lightweight, rigid and flexible, making it a popular option for a variety of applications such as packaging, building material, vehicles, electronics, sporting equipment, and household products.

Over 300 million tonnes of plastic is produced every year and a half of this includes single-use items such as containers, shopping bags, cups and straws.  Plastic straws are the top 10 things found littered around beaches today. An estimated 8.3 billion straws pollute beaches all over the world.

These onetime-use plastic items have become a huge environmental problem for our planet. Not only do they fill up landfills, but approximately 8 million metric tonnes of plastics find their way to the ocean every year, according to the World Economic Forum.

While all plastic may not be intentionally dumped into the ocean, a lot of the plastic items like bags, straws and containers get blown to waterways by the wind from landfills and garbage cans, or washed down drains by rainwater, ultimately arriving in the ocean through streams and rivers.

Plastic pollution in our oceans is not only choking up marine life and our natural habitat but also threatening human health, food safety, and contributing to climate change, according to the The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

While plastics straws make up only 0.025 percent of all the plastics that find their way to the ocean every year. But this hasn’t stopped environmental groups and concerned citizens from focusing on campaigns that stop the use of plastic straws altogether.

One such trio from India is fighting this campaign and launched an environmental initiative called No Straws Attached (NSA) in 2017.

Priyanka Kalra, Umang Manchanda, Mallika Arya, co-founders of No Straws Attached, are conscious of their ecological footprint. While their battle is against all plastics, their focus on straws is for three very important reasons.

Plastics straws are too light and slip through the mechanical sorters during the recycle process, mixing with other stuff and getting disposed as garbage. Second, plastic straws are really not needed as one can easily drink directly from the glass and third, giving up plastic straws is a tiny step towards ending reliance on single-use plastic items.

In an interview, Arya explains, “They’re not only damaging our waterways but are also causing immense damage to our marine life. Plastic straws are used for a few minutes before they’re thrown away.”

“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,” the trio reiterate.

The idea for NSA was borne in a restaurant when the three young women were served drinks with straws, even though they explicitly asked for no straws. This upset them immensely. Using social media and its ability to reach millions of people, they started a campaign to educate consumers about the impact of plastic straws on the environment and the use of alternatives.

“There are alternatives available- these can be made of bamboo, metal, glass or paper. If you absolutely require one, then choose one of these. We have become so dependent on single-use plastic - we really need to re-design and re-think how we use things,” the three women explain.

Their strategy also includes having relevant conversations with restaurants, cafes and bars to substitute single-use plastic straws with eco-friendly alternatives.

Within 10 months of starting the campaign, NSA started seeing results in seven Indian cities, and three other countries and after just two and half years, it has been implemented by businesses and used as an educational tool in over 20 countries.

 “No Straws Attached” is about empowering people to take baby steps. Identify and cut out all those pieces of plastic you don’t need, and more importantly talk to everyone about it!,” summarizes Mallika.