Phasing out plastic straws helps the environment, but more needs to be done, say observers
SINGAPORE: The move by more than 270 food and beverage (F&B) outlets to eliminate plastic straws represents an important move in the right direction, but more work is needed for Singapore to tackle its output of plastic waste, industry observers told CNA.
The local outlets in question will phase out plastic straws by Jul 1, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) announced on Monday (Jun 3).
They will be removing straws completely from their premises, providing them only on request or for specific medical reasons, WWF said in a media release. The move is part of the PACT (Plastic ACTion) initiative by WWF, which is supported by the National Environment Agency and Zero Waste SG.
Ms Melissa Lam, who started Bamboo Straw Girl, a business selling biodegradable straws, suggested that the move represents a "step" rather than an "achievement".
“It’s got a lot of publicity, a lot of countries have done this and we’re quite slow to the game," she said. "It’s not going to be the be all and end all of the problem.
"This is not an achievement, it’s just a step. It is small but it catches the attention."
Ms Lam added that attitudes towards the use of plastic straws have been changing.
"When I go to the coffeeshop and order a drink but refuse a straw, the coffeeshop uncle will now say: 'Oh you’re recycling.' In the past, I would have to explain myself.
"Right now people are generally aware, it's whether they wanted take that step to action.”
People in Singapore use about 2.2 million straws daily, according to a 2018 report by AlphaBeta, The Final Straw and the Cyan Project.
Ms Olivia Choong, who co-founded environmental group Green Drinks Singapore, added that some companies may have been adopting a 'wait and see' attitude and this move could nudge them towards reducing usage of straws.
“Its a good first step because there are all a lot of business waiting for somebody to start first," said Ms Choong. "I do think that with all these people saying yes, they always need somebody to start and see that it is doable.
"Other companies won’t want to lose, these companies look good and other companies will think that now its time … It’s just the starting point - it's like the poster child at the moment. It's something a lot of people can get behind, so why not ride the wave?”
According to Singstat, there were more than 7,500 food establishments in Singapore in 2016 - the 270 outlets participating in PACT comprise about 3.5 per cent of the total number. Several companies had also announced plans to eliminate plastic straws last year, including KFC, Starbucks, Burger King and Resorts World Sentosa.
In December 2018, Yakult Singapore said it would no longer provide straws with its probiotic cultured milk drinks, and that it was looking at alternative materials to replace plastic as part of its packaging.
GOING THE EXTRA MILE
Rather than just phasing out straws, some companies who are part of the WWF initiative have taken additional steps.
Take Foreword Coffee, a cafe which also incentivises consumers to bring their own cups by providing a 10 per cent discount when they do so. The cafe serves cold drinks in paper cups and has eliminated the use of straws since it began operations.
"We did not face with much backlash from consumers with our straw-less practices even before the straw-less movement become more prominent," founder Lim Wei Jie told CNA.
"It is encouraging to see larger businesses to also take part in this movement. With such solidarity, the green movement is no longer just a publicity stunt but an inclusive movement for other businesses to take part for the good of the environment."
Another organisation which has made a push towards eliminating plastic waste is Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS).
In 2017, WRS installed 27 water dispensers across its four parks to encourage the use of refillable bottles over single-use plastic bottles. A year later, all F&B outlets operated by WRS went straw-free, and it stopped all sales of bottled water, replacing them with carton boxed water.
"Sustainability is a core part of Wildlife Reserve Singapore’s values as it plays a major role in our commitment to protecting biodiversity," said Dr Cheng Wen Haur, WRS' deputy chief executive officer.
"Plastic pollution is a threat to wildlife and their habitats, with over a million birds and animals killed by plastic waste every year via ingestion or being trapped in them. As a conservation-minded organisation, WRS is committed to reducing usage of plastics – beyond straws – and single-use items across aspects of our daily operations, wherever possible."
But beyond the measures put in place by individual organisations, concrete steps need to be taken at a higher level, stressed Plastic-Lite Singapore founder Aarti Giri.
Singapore uses about 1.76 billion plastic items each year, according to the Singapore Environment Council’s position paper published in 2018. This includes 820 million plastic bags from supermarkets, 467 million PET bottles and 473 million plastic disposable items.
"If you request people (to make a change), it may not be enough to mitigate the monstrous public problem," said Ms Giri.
"If you really want make concrete headway, it has to be at policy level ... If this can spur on changes at a legislative level then I’m all for it.
"It has to be followed up on, otherwise we will just be grasping at straws."