Straw-free Tuesdays get youths started on plastic-lite journey

KELLY NG Today Online 18 Oct 17;

SINGAPORE — In a bid to get youngsters to use less plastic, an environmental activist has teamed up with four schools in northwestern Singapore to do without drinking straws once a week.

Ms Aarti Giri, 38, is expecting more schools to come on board next year. Five have already signalled their interest to join the initiative at the start of the new school year.

Since last month, the drinks stalls at Regent Secondary, Nan Chiau High, Pei Hwa Secondary and Nan Chiau Primary schools have gone straw-free on Tuesdays.

Ms Giri, who founded the non-profit group Plastic Lite Singapore last year, said she targeted straws because they made for a simple way to start cutting back on plastic. "Even without a straw, the taste of the drink itself doesn't change," she said. "Cutting straws is a habit that people can easily (adopt) ... Unlike, for instance, (doing without disposable) spoons."

The entrepreneur, who runs a business selling bags woven from a durable vegetable fibre called jute, started giving talks in schools to raise environmental awareness in February this year. She has reached out to about 16 primary and secondary schools so far, mostly with the help of North West Community Development Council.

The straw-free initiative was a way to "bridge what was taught with action", she said.

Although some may say the actual amount of plastic waste reduced through her effort is small, Ms Giri said it would plant a seed in the minds of the younger generation.

Elsewhere in the world, straw-free campaigns are a popular way to raise awareness of the growing problem of plastic waste, which blights beaches and oceans and causes harm to marine life such as sea turtles. According to a Guardian report in June, an estimated four to 12 million metric tonnes of plastic end up in the ocean each year.

Teachers overseeing the effort in their schools agree the "small step" makes a difference. Regent Secondary's Ms Celia Loong, who teaches Chinese language, said the school plans to increase the number of no-straw days from next year.

Chemistry teacher Ms Leow Shie Hui, who oversees Nan Chiau High's Green Club, said: "There is a possibility of even phasing out straws ... This is a simple change in habit. Every individual has to make a small step."

The school's students are hoping to go completely straw-free next year.

Ms Giri wants to extend the movement by working with food and beverage outlets to serve straws only on request — another measure that has gained ground in countries like the United States. According to a global alliance called Plastic Pollution Coalition, about 1,800 restaurants, organisations and schools worldwide have eliminated plastic straws or implemented a straws-on-request policy.

Eateries that are "straw-lite zones" will provide opportunities to talk about reducing plastic use, she said. Anchorvale Community Club in Sengkang is planning to team up with eateries in Seletar Mall and coffeeshops in the area to eliminate straws.

Straws make up 3 to 12 per cent of litter collected at coastal cleanups here, according to data collected by the International Coastal Cleanup, Singapore.

"As with all single-use plastic products, straws are economically and environmentally unsustainable ... It is something that can easily be let go (of) and we can play a part in that," said Ms Giri.

She also hopes to introduce Bounce Bag, a reusable bag-sharing initiative at supermarkets. With the help of volunteers, she has collected over 600 reusable bags from residents and is currently in discussions with supermarkets and several grassroots organisations.

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