The threat of plastics is becoming real by the day, we’ve all seen the images of the plastic “islands” in our oceans, equivalent in size to large countries. Each one of us at an individual level to institutions and governments have been responsible for letting this grow unbounded. As a sense of an urgency around this issue world over becomes real, it is cases where individuals drive change that affect industry behaviour that inspire us at One Planet Rating.
In one of our previous posts, we chatted with Dhruv Boruah who is behind the Thames clean up project. In our latest post, we interact with Mallika Arya, the co-founder of the rapidly growing No Straws Attached movement. No Straws Attached is an initiative that encourages you to say NO to the straw. Aiming to change the ‘benign, invisible image’ of the straw to the catastrophe it really is, the movement has grown to three countries including India, Mexico and Uruguay.
OPR: What inspired your interest in pursuing the No Straws Attached movement?
Mallika: Personally, I have given it my 100% over the last two years to lead a zero waste and low impact lifestyle. There is a lot we can do at an individual level that has an impact on our planet. The other two co-founders of this campaign also were in the habit of going to restaurants and requesting for drinks without plastic straws – we all realised that despite us asking again and again for no straws – we were often given drinks with straws.
Putting a plastic straw in a drink has almost become a mechanical activity for most
We wanted to change this. We wanted people to be aware of the damage their straw is doing in the long run and also help restaurants become more conscious of their actions.
OPR: How receptive have players within the Food & Beverage industry been towards adopting a No Straws approach, given this has a ‘customer preference’ orientation to it?
Mallika: We have been pleasantly surprised at how receptive the industry have been. There are a number of reasons players in the industry see this as a step in the right direction.
1) The Food & Beverage industry has a large chunk of responsibility when it comes to plastic pollution, cutting away single use plastics such as this helps them to move towards cleaning up their act.
2) There is a lot of attention today being given to eco friendly and sustainable establishments today and I think everyone wants to be included on those lists. Whatever the reason might be – we are happy to have more and more restaurants on board – it helps us spread the message and the more people that are involved, the faster we can start finding solutions to single use plastics.
Pictured above are the co-founders of the No Straws Attached movement.
From L-R, Umang, Mallika and Priyanka
OPR: This obviously involves a behavioral change involving people no longer demanding straws. How is No Straws Attached addressing that?
Mallika: Yes, this definitely involves creating behavioral change and that is one of the toughest changes to bring about. To create any sort of behaviour change its important to understand where that behavior stems from in the beginning. In the case of straws its pretty clear that our usage is linked to convenience. People need to see the cost of this convenience on the planet. Our lifestyles today have such negative externalities that most of us aren’t even aware of – where and how was that straw made? How did it land up in our drink? Where will it go after we are done using it?
As more and more countries and larger chains are banning single use plastics – the awareness is growing. We don’t expect all 7.2 billion people on our planet to stop using straws over night. Rather its going to be a slow domino effect. If you go out with friends one night and manage to influence even 2 people in your group of 5-6 – those 2 will further inflame more and so on and so forth. Behavioural change will come about but we must remember that it is going to be slow.
OPR: This specific cause does find a substitute in wooden and paper straws. Is there involvement across the supply chain to help adopters with viable alternatives like these?
Mallika: While we definitely feel that we need alternatives to single use plastic straws it is very important to remember that alternatives also require resources to make. Paper straws STILL advocate a disposable culture. I personally do carry around a bamboo and metal straw and have composted my old bamboo ones. The question the Food & Beverage industry needs to ask is when are the straws really necessary?
OPR: In one of your markets, India, surprisingly you’re seeing an interest in non-metropolitan cities. In the recent past, its been Café Cibo in Dehradun (Happened to visit this cafe? Review your visit here) . What’s driving this trend?
Mallika: We have 2 cities so far – Varansi and Dehradun that aren’t the usual metropolitans we have been dealing with so far and I think whats interesting and common between such cities is that they depend on tourism. It’s important for cities like this to adopt such campaigns because at the end of the day its for their benefit. Who would want to visit a highly polluted city? Look at places like Bali and the smaller islands of Thailand – they have become so badly polluted with single use plastics that people actually think twice about going there now.
OPR: Do you think an institutional change helps your cause in terms of reaching out? By institutions I mean change advocated by the Govt. as an example. Say, the Swachh Bharat campaign in India.
Mallika: The SBC so far has mainly been successful in “cleaning up” efforts. These are bandaid solutions for when the trash and waste has already been created. While they are definitely helpful and as we have seen with the case of Olive Ridley Turtles hatching for the first time at Versova due to beach clean up efforts – these efforts DO make a difference.
What we are hoping for are more top down solutions like bans on production and retail of single use plastics and a stronger implementation of these bans.
There also needs to be some sort of capacity building in the space of alternatives – grants, programs etc that allow people to develop skills required to make products that are actually good for the environment.
OPR: Some advice on how One Planet Rating readers could make a difference in restaurants they visit to encourage less plastic straws.
Mallika: The most important thing everyone can do when they visit a restaurant or bar is to be AWARE! Its easy for us to get caught up in the moment when we are out with our friends and family but I think its important to be aware 100% of the time. We have caused too much damage to our planet already and its time we step up. Repeat your “NO STRAW” order 5 times if you need to because the person taking your order often forgets the small and simple request. If you see that there is a separate bartender making the drinks – don’t feel shy to go up to them and say you don’t want a straw. If you can get the contact details of the manager and owner – do that and shoot them an email the next day telling them about “No Straws Attached” – mark the campaign email id “email@example.com” and most importantly – when you see a restaurant serving drinks without straws – applaud them and make them know that you have noticed!
Been to a restaurant following a No Straw policy?
Acknowledge their efforts. Rate them on One Planet Rating to let other travelers know and spread the word.