Tide turns on waste

Deo Rwagasore, left, and Erin Green, right, of Cafe Roux discussed the Straws Suck campaign being rolled out at the Noordhoek Farm Village. They are seen with Erins daughter, Leia and Jason Chivell. The (anonymous) customer surveys are being distributed in customers bills. Informative posters about drinking straws and their impact are being placed around the village.

Could there be a link between the straw you so unthinkingly use while sipping something delicious and a turtle in pain? Yes, says Noordhoek-based group Turning the Tide which has started its Straws Suck campaign as a first step to try to reduce plastic pollution.

Friends Karoline Hanks and Nicola Jenkin are old varsity friends who founded the group. Nicola is a sustainability consultant with a background in food waste and packaging, and Karoline is an environmental writer and editor who has an environmental sciences background. The group has been trying for some months to raise awareness about plastics used once and then thrown away.

There is loads of evidence to back them on their quest. On our doorstep every beach clean-up gathers piles of plastics, the Whale Disentanglement Network regularly has to free whales caught in debris and a cursory bit of research shows that governments and environmental organisations are increasingly worried about the negative impact of plastics – of massive floating islands of plastic called gyres, of plastic entanglement killing tens of thousands of seals a year, of birds and marine animals ingesting or being strangled by plastic. According to Green Planet (www.onegreenplanet.org/) more than 300 million tons of plastic are consumed each year. Plastic doesn’t have to be directly thrown into the ocean – it starts on land and washes into the sea through rain or drains or sewers, so plastics are not just a problem as unsightly land-based litter.

So, why Straws Suck?

It was an alarming video on YouTube which concentrated their thoughts, said Nicola. The video showed an olive ridley sea turtle having a plastic drinking straw agonisingly extracted from its nostril.

“It’s horrific images such as these that make us feel quite passionate about our impact on the oceans and marine animals in particular,” said Nicola. “There are millions of birds and mammals out there ingesting plastic on a daily basis – we just don’t get to see it.”

The reason for this waste? The continued demand for plastic and our unconscious use of disposable plastic. And what more unconscious use than plastic drinking straws? Used once, then thrown away.

“Drinking straws are, in a sense, a poster child for the single-use plastic scourge,” said Karoline. “There are so many other horrors out there which the Turning the Tide team would like to tackle – disposable cutlery, plastic shopping bags, ear bud sticks, to name a few – but straws are the one ‘low-hanging fruit’ we feel we can try to practically and successfully address.”

So they have started at Noordhoek Farm Village, putting up posters and distributing customer surveys, trying to gauge customers’ attitudes toward a potential ban on plastic straws at the restaurants.
“The initial results have been very encouraging,” said Karoline. “Out of the initial residents surveyed, 100 percent% agree that plastic straws pose a risk to the environment. Ninety percent indicated that they were happy to go without a straw, and 89 percent% indicated a willingness to pay a small amount for an environmentally-friendly alternative, for example up to R1 for a paper straw.”

“Some customers have gone as far as saying that this should be a country-wide ban and one very enthusiastic respondent wants to roll out the same initiative in Fish Hoek”, said Marike Colyn who is also a member of Turning the Tide and a Noordhoek resident.

“By focusing on the impacts of drinking straws, and asking customers to consider doing without this one item, we feel we are helping to generate awareness around the bigger issue of plastic pollution and how each one of us can help reduce our footprint”, said Karoline.

* The online version of the survey is on the Noordhoek Community Facebook Forum. For more information see https://www.facebook.com/turningthetidecampaign