Switch to paper straws, says Reefwatch

The dangers of a plastic straw can hardly be overestimated. In the time that it takes for the bamboo of paper straws to decompose, their plastic counterparts would have barely disintegrated, just small enough to seep into the soil, pollute water, and choke marine life that mistakes it for food. In the case of the latter, the few creatures that do survive the ingestion merely pass on the toxicity up the food chain, eventually bringing it to us. Too much trouble, isn’t it, for something we use for a few minutes and discard forever?

The situation has been irking certain groups of people for quite some time now, and conservationists and entrepreneurs in cities across the country have been trying to make a shift away from plastic straws, urging their clients to — in some cases — #stopsucking. But so far, the movement — at least in Chennai — has largely been limited to a few high-end restaurants and bars.

The same organisation that brought the #refusethestraw campaign to Chennai last year, is now trying to bring it to the streets. Mumbai-based Reefwatch Marine Conservation, has tied up with startups from Bengaluru and Mumbai in an attempt to bring about the shift away from plastic among coconut water vendors in Chennai. The organisation, though optimistic, acknowledges that they have a long way to go before that change takes effect.

Switch to paper straws, says Reefwatch

Says Akhila Vijayaraghavan, marketing and outreach officer, Reefwatch, “We are in talks with a few vendors in Teynampet and Besant Nagar for now,” but the going is long and arduous. Biodegradable options like paper and bamboo straws are much more expensive than their plastic counterparts, which is why making the shift is difficult, and in some cases not feasible at all.

This cost and funding aspect is what Reefwatch is focusing on for now, using the earlier stage of their campaign to fund this stage. While eateries in the city had earlier signed up with them to eschew plastic straws, some are now putting up bamboo ones for sale at their outlets, thus helping raise funds for this initiative. These are available at Terra Earth Foods, Azurina and Brew Room, according to Vijayaraghavan.

Proceeds from these sales are to go towards supplying paper straws to coconut vendors, but there’s a lot to be done before that happens. For now, “the sample size of coconut vendors we have spoken to is very small — about 10 or 15,” says Vijayaraghavan, “They are open to the idea, as long as we subsidise the paper straws for them. Without that, they would have to raise their prices, and that just isn’t feasible for them.”

The team at Reefwatch is brainstorming ideas that would enable coconut vendors to switch to paper straws without seeing a hit in business, and are open to ideas and suggestions.

In the meantime, they have tied up with two startups who share a similar vision: Bengaluru-based Bare Necessities for the supply of bamboo straws for sale, and Mumbai-based Pappco Greenware for the paper ones. Both are initiatives by environmentally-conscious youngsters trying to offer eco-friendly alternatives to plastic products that we use everyday.

Says Sahar Mansoor, founder, Bare Necessities, “We believe in looking at our waste problem from an ecosystem perspective. We need awareness, consumers asking for the right products, manufacturers producing the right products, and the right Government policies to incentivise such initiatives. This initiative embodies this ecosystem perspective.”

Mansoor got in touch with Reefwatch founder Nayantara Jain, thus being apprised of this initiative. “We connected via Instagram… Tara and I. We then met at a trash talk and DIY workshop at Nicobar and decided to collaborate. It was an instant connection since we were passionate about environmental issues,” says Mansoor.

So with the suppliers and the sellers seemingly ready to make the shift, the only hitch in the plan is funding. “We’re also looking at an idea wherein people can ‘adopt’ a vendor and fund their subsidy,” says Vijayaraghavan, “But so far, there hasn’t been a common consensus with what kind of strategy to take.”

Reefwatch Marine Conservation is open to ideas and suggestions to translate their vision into reality. If you want to help, contact them at outreach@reefwatchindia.org

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Printable version | Jul 31, 2021 5:52:30 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/switch-to-paper-straws-says-reefwatch/article23186930.ece

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