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We sat down with Eva Mckinley, founder of The Last Straw, a campaign aiming to reduce the use of plastic straws in venues around Australia. The campaign aims to create change from both sides: the consumer to the business themselves.
At 26 years old, Eva Mckinley had already accomplished a lot.
Prior to kicking off 'The Last Straw', Eva was a director of 'Global Partners for Changes'; a program that supports young Kenyans to create social change within their communities. She was also the first Tasmanian Ambassador for the 2014 'One Young World Summit', held in Dublin; and a youth delegate to the 2013 Rotary International Peace Conference.
While she passionately pursued solving issues of social change she found herself working nights in hospitality venues in the capital of Tasmania, Hobart. It was here that she saw first hand the waste produced in the hospitality industry.
One part of that waste, the sucky use of straws, was something she decided she could change.
In the USA alone over 500 million straws are used every day. That's a lot of plastic for an item that has a lifespan is 20 minutes on average.
Plastic never completely breaks down, it just becomes smaller and smaller. Think about this: every single piece of plastic you've ever used in your life still exists and will outlive your children's, children's, children.
I sat down with Eva to talk about the campaign, the need to reduce our single-use plastic habit and what venues and consumers can do to jump on board.
So Eva, in your words, what is The Last Straw campaign?
The Last Straw is a campaign to end the use of plastic straws in Australia. We do this by working with consumers to change the culture around straw use, changing the idea of people wanting or expecting a straw in their drink.
But also working with venues, a lot of bartenders will automatically put straws in drinks so we work to educate from both sides: To stop the culture around straw use.
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You've got a pretty impressive background! And last year The Last Straw won an award at the Tasmania Young Achievers awards in its first year, but from everything you've worked on what made you want to focus on straws?
As you know, social activism doesn't pay very well so while I was working on other campaigns I was working nights in bars around Hobart to fund my work. The last straw was a way to combine those.
On the one hand, I was working on social change, and on the other, I was working in an industry that is possibly the most wasteful industry, so I felt like there was a significant potential to turn that around.
Why do you think, with so much obvious waste and such huge environmental repercussions venues aren't just ditching straws flat out?
I believe there are a couple of reasons; the first one is habit and convenience. It just seems to be a habit that people don't think about too much. Mostly when I do talk to people about the campaign their reaction is 'oh wow I've never thought about it before. I'm going to stop using straws' So I think in some ways, it is an attitude that will be easy to change.
On the other hand, the reasons people give me that indicate they don't want to change are always about 'what is more convenient for me at this moment' so I think we need to start weighing up what that convenience means in the long term. I don't believe that we're very good at thinking about the life cycle of things, which is the big picture here. We need to get this idea into people's consciousness.
You mentioned recently in an interview the idea of thinking of metal straws as knives and forks, why do you think its so much harder for venues to get behind reusable options when it comes to straws?
I think the first part of this is that when I start talking to people about the campaign the first thing they say is 'what is the alternative? What are you replacing them with? And that's not the point. A replacement for plastic straws, in the way we use them and volume of which we use them currently, is going to cause just as much damage in the long term.
At the heart of it, just stop using so much. I have a metal straw that I take to bars and use myself, so I don't need to worry about a bar having changed over, but creating thousands of paper or biodegradable is still going to be hugely wasteful at the rate we go through them.
So Blackheath just became the first town in Australia to ban straws. I did a bit of research about Blackheath and found out they don't have any franchises, so no McDonalds, no KFC or any other mass produce outlets. Do you think that it would be hard in the major cities because even if the community was behind a ban how we could convince a global corporation to change?
First of all, getting rid of plastic straws all together is going to be an uphill battle. Especially because of massive franchises, changing those kinds of habits takes a long time, but we've got to keep chipping away at it. The more towns that start making these decisions that put pressure on the franchises and shows that the community wants the change.
What has been your biggest hurdle?
It seems that people are receptive to it and say that its such a fantastic idea but when it comes to asking for your drink without a straw or buying a reusable to straw to take with you the follow through with actions is where they fall over.
Our biggest hurdle is the translation from 'that's a good idea' to action.
What has been your biggest achievement?
The biggest achievement, aside from the award, is honestly just being a part of the conversation and contributing to the movement and spreading it so everyone doesn't say 'oh wow I've never thought about it', making it something normal to question.
What would you like to say to our generation, who go out more than ever before?
We are a point where there are 7 billion people on the planet; and 7 billion people using disposable plastics, multiple times a day, it is just not feasible, there just isn't enough room, and we don't have the right waste management systems for it.
So while it might be more convenient to get a takeout lunch, or a takeaway coffee in the morning and not bring your cutlery to work, what is the cost in the long term that extra effort doesn't take much.
So next time you're at a bar, just think about it: do you really need that straw?