If you are wondering why there’s such a huge viral movement about reducing the usage of straws in recent times, we’ve got your covered.
Sometime back in 2015, a disturbing video of a marine biologist extracting a plastic straw stuck up the nostril of a live sea turtle went viral. With blood dripping down its nostril during the extraction, this painful footage helped many to understand the damage that plastic waste had on marine life.
The straw-free campaign thus started gaining traction in Singapore, thanks to the efforts of various environmental groups. Early this year, a young environmentalist emerged to contribute to the eco-movement. Merely 17-years-old, Hwa Chong Institute-student Ang Zyn Yee shares with us her thoughts and dreams.
The First Step To Bigger Changes
Plastic straws are seen as single-use plastics and they are used only once before they are thrown away. However, straws are only a small fraction of the plastic waste produced yearly.
Why does Zyn Yee choose to advocate a straw-free environment through her initiative ‘Straw-Free Singapore’?
She explains, “I think that straws are a great starting point for the general public to get acquainted with the green movement. Precisely because it is such a small and inessential item, for most of us, I feel like it is not a hassle for most people to stop using straws.”
“I want people to realise that the decisions they make in the their daily lives sometimes hurt the environment, consciously or unconsciously, and starting small by refusing the humble straw is an effortless first step in the right direction.”
Needless to say, it has worked. There is increasing curiosity about environmental issues and the problems of plastic waste is taken more seriously.
Regardless, doubt from industry experts and skeptics are abound, and consumers’ habits are hard to break. In fact, she has received much reservations throughout her campaigns.
“People always ask me why I am not campaigning for fishing lines or other plastics that are more common. Some people even bring up the argument that there are other major things I should spend my time on, insinuating that straws are a trivial matter”, she reveals.
“Most people who do not believe in it think that we are ‘eco freaks’. They think that the world is facing so many other problems that are more pertinent and that my time would be better spent on those issues.”
She also shares an account of an acquaintance who wanted to refuse a straw, only to have an auntie rudely tell her that she is not going to save the world like this.
Yes, skipping a straw might not stop marine pollution. Yet, “the power of the straw-free movement lies in its ability to foster curiosity and catalyse change!”
This optimistic youth also believes that people who learn about the straw-free movement are genuinely interested and will adopt other green habits in their lifestyles to reduce plastic consumption and waste, eventually leading to the change we hope to see with marine pollution.
She enthuses, “I’ve seen friends begin with a metal straw, but slowly move towards reusable tumblers and then tupperware – ultimately amassing the whole set!”
The journey of Zyn Yee’s straw-free campaigns is a challenging one but the hard work is all worth it in the end.
She tells me, “In the very beginning, I wrote like dozens of emails every night in hopes of getting a positive response. Back then, the straw-free movement was not as well known and I was just constantly ignored. I think it was quite a discouraging period and it felt like I was working really hard for nothing. I am extremely grateful now.”
“My first primary school assembly talk was also super nerve-wracking because it was my first time presenting and representing my campaign”, she recounts.
Of course, there were plenty of heartening moments as well.
“The lovely folks at Changi Airport invited me down to meet them where they shared some straw-related initiatives they were going to roll out. Having them respond and pay attention to me was definitely a highlight of my journey!”
To date, she has managed to convince corporations such as Wildlife Reserves Singapore to go straw-free and more than 20 F&B establishments in Changi Airport to go straw-lite.
Zyn Yee’s other efforts include distributing over 100 straw-free stickers to schools, cafes, hawker stalls and restaurants, collaborating with eateries to create unique stickers/table tents and participating in roadshows to promote her cause.
The collective efforts of various environmental groups in Singapore have resulted in encouraging results. Substitutes for plastic straws such as metal and bamboo straws are also increasing in exposure.
Yet, there are warnings that this straw-free campaign could backfire. The rationale is that companies and individuals could be misled into thinking they have done enough to save the environment.
Considering the relatively short attention of humans in this digital era, I wonder if this is merely a social trend?
Zyn Yee shares, “I hope not but I think it’s inevitable that some people will move on and go back to plastic straws. However, I think that there are also people who are committed to this idea and will make going green a lifestyle.”
“From my observations in school and friends, I realise that most people my age are quite open-minded when it comes to change. So, I think that the green movement will grow from here.
She also credits her success to the pioneers of the eco-movement who created opportunities for more individuals to step up and helm green projects of their own.
“I truly believe that now is a ripe time for us to inspire the community around us.”
We all call Earth our home. Individual efforts may seem futile but together, we can indeed make a difference.