The awareness of plastic pollution has been hyper-focused on single-use straws in the past few years.
Attention especially intensified following a video of a turtle from the sea that needed to get a straw removed from its nostril going viral in 2015 (please be advised, the video contains distressing footage).
Many local efforts have cropped up since to advocate for the refusal of plastic straws and introduced metal and bamboo alternatives that you can wash and reuse.
But now, one such local effort that has been very successful, the ‘Tak Nak Straw’ campaign, believes it’s time to expand beyond just targeting consumers, because business owners now have a bigger part to play as awareness is peaking.
The Tak Nak Straw team reveals that a restaurant in Petaling Jaya, Selangor that adopted their “straw on request” policy found that 95% of their patrons don’t even ask for straws when not offered.
Another restaurant (also in the Klang Valley) that participated in a one-day test reported that only 20% of their patrons asked for straws for that day.
“Many restaurants think that customers will complain if you don’t give straws. But this shows that it’s a fallacy,” says Carolyn Lau, one of the founders of environmental group Sampah, Menyampah, which runs the Tak Nak Straw campaign.
Carolyn and fellow founder Mareena Yahya explain that they hope this ongoing tracking of data will unburden more eateries from the imaginary need to stock up on single-use straws. And ultimately reduce single-use plastic at restaurants in general.
Sampah, Menyampah was founded in March 2017 as an umbrella organisation for environmental initiatives, the first of which being Tak Nak Straw.
The idea of the campaign was to give a localised context to a growing global movement aimed at raising awareness of plastic pollution by refusing plastic straws.
“The straw is a good entry point to understanding the effects of plastic and get people to wean off disposable plastic,” says Carolyn.
“It is like a key that opens the whole horrible closet of single-use plastic.”
To put things in perspective, focusing on straws in Malaysia alone, it was estimated last year by an environment and solid waste management specialist that Malaysians collectively throw away 31 million plastic straws a day.
And in the bigger picture, the World Economic Forum had in a 2016 report estimated that if status quo remains, the ocean will contain one tonne of plastic for every three tonnes of fish by as soon as 2025. And by 2050, there will be more plastics in the ocean than fish by weight.
The Sampah, Menyampah team, which is currently made up of up to six volunteers, largely spreads its message through workshops at environmental events, and also at schools that invite them to give talks.
Now with the expanded focus on eateries, they have launched the Tak Nak Straw Map — a growing online list of food and beverage businesses in the country that either doesn’t provide single-use straws at all or only serve straws on request.
And as awareness for straws become more and more widespread, the team has grown confident enough to focus efforts on the rejection of all forms of plastic with the new campaign “Tak Nak Plastik” being launched in March this year.
“When we ask kids where they think their trash goes, they don’t really know the answer. It never occurs to them if it’s not pointed out. So we need to introduce this responsibility at a young age,” says Mareena, whose plastic-free lifestyle with her children inspired the Tak Nak Straw tagline.
“We cannot wait for the government or corporations to make the change. We as individuals need to change, from our own households, and from there it will grow organically.”