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Straw Wars: The Fight Against Plastic Waste

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock recently, you may have noticed that the banning of plastic straws has become the latest environmental cause sweeping across the industry. Last week, Pernod Ricard announced it is banning the use of plastic straws across all parts of its business and now Diageo has confirmed it will be doing the same.

So how much of an impact do this little plastic tubes have on our environment and what are some alternatives you can use in your bar? Drinks World spoke with an expert on the matter to find out.

With her online eco store, Biome, Tracey Bailey is fighting the excessive use of the everyday plastic straw one reusable stainless steel equivalent at a time.

Drinks World: Could you tell us a little about yourself and what inspired you to
start Biome?

Tracey Bailey: I’ve always had an interest in nature and the environment. I grew up in a small mining town in North Queensland, where I spent a lot of time outside with my family. After studying business communications at university, I ventured to Jakarta and worked in corporate communications for multinational companies. This opened my eyes to sustainable practice and social justice, as well as my scepticism towards consumer product marketing.

After four years working in Indonesia, I moved back to Brisbane to explore how I could combine my desire to be part of the solution to the world’s environmental problems with a business that would fuel my entrepreneurial spirit.  In 2003, I launched Biome, Australia’s first online eco store. The mission of Biome has always been to change consumer habits for the betterment of all.  Rather than despairing about what is going wrong in our world, I feel empowered and positive about the contribution I am making to the planet.

Biome offers all the products and tools needed to live a zero waste, toxin-free and ethical lifestyle, ranging from reusable water bottles and coffee cups to lunch boxes and organic skin care. Biome helps customers shop by the values important to them, such as vegan, plastic-free and palm oil free, knowing that the products have all passed Biome’s strict criteria and are verified for truth in labelling, safe ingredients and zero harm to people, animals, and the planet.

DW: What impact does plastic drinking straws have on the environment and our oceans?

TB: Over 500 million straws are used daily worldwide for an average of 20 minutes before being discarded. They are an item of convenience and are essentially useless but people continue to use them despite their harmful effects on the environment.

Plastic straws are one of many types of plastic items polluting our earth and harming our wildlife. From production to disposal, plastic straws consume non-renewable resources and take thousands of years to break down. These chemical produced products are non-biodegradable and when disposed photodegrade (decompose by light) over time, causing each piece of plastic to break down into small fragments.

Straws are one of the top 10 items collected in ocean clean-ups. The environmental effects of plastic single-use items are permanent and widespread with plastic contributing to approximately 90 per cent of the rubbish floating in our oceans. Approximately 46 thousand pieces of plastic contaminate every square mile of the ocean.

DW: How long does a plastic straw take to break down?

TB: The lifespan of a plastic straw depends on the environment and conditions it is subjected to; however, it is estimated it can take between 200 – 500 years for a plastic straw to break down.

DW: What products do you have available to bartenders so they can make a positive impact on the war of plastic straws?

TB: At Biome we stock a large range of glass, silicone, bamboo, stainless steel and biodegradable paper drinking straws to help venues reduce their environmental impact. We offer bent and straight straws for various uses, including larger straws for smoothies. We also sell a range of straw cleaning brushes to care for your reusable straws.

DW: How long can the stainless steel straws be used for and are they easy to keep clean?

TB: Stainless steel straws are the most durable reusable option to reduce your use of single-use plastic straws. As they are made from high quality food grade stainless steel, they will last a lifetime if cared for properly, and at the end of their life they can be recycled at designated recycling facilities.  Stainless steel straws are easy to keeps clean. They can be placed in the dishwasher or washed by hand. We recommend using a straw cleaning brush to clean inside the straw.

DW: For high volume cocktail bars, would you recommend paper straws are a more environmentally friendly option?

TB: Not offering straws at all is the most environmentally friendly option, however I understand businesses have to provide them for their customers. Ideally, reusable stainless-steel straws are the best option due to their durable and reusable aspects, similar to cutlery. The second-best option is to use 100% biodegradable paper straws. They are still a disposable product but are far less harmful to the environment.

DW: What simple steps can an individual take in their day-to-day lives that can make a difference in land waste/plastic trash?

TB: Our increasing use of convenience products is vastly affecting our planet, and while the problems on a global scale can seem overwhelming, on a personal level, it is more achievable. Each time you use a reusable straw it means one less plastic straw ends up in landfill or in our precious oceans. This applies to other single-use items too such as plastic bags, water bottles, coffee cups, cutlery and produce bags. Simple changes such as using a reusable coffee cup, drink bottle and shopping bag can collectively reduce a significant amount of waste and pollution, and save precious resources.

We believe the collective power of individual actions can create significant change. In the last 12 months, the Biome community has saved the waste of over six million single-use plastic items being produced and discarded by using their reusable products.