Why do you need 5 kinds of metal straws?

By Lauren Ong


I bought my first metal straw for $2 last year at a fundraiser for one of those Youth Expedition Projects in school. I got it because it was for a good cause and the university had just started its (the horror!) campus-wide straw ban.

In the same semester, I received another metal straw as a door gift to a talk I had attended on campus. A few months later at another event, I got a metal straw kit with straws for every kind of use. There’s one straight one, which you can use for anything. There’s another one that bends for when you are too lazy to dip your head down for a sip. The third one is big enough to suck up the blobs in bubble tea. There was even a cleaning brush. It was very well thought out.

But, seriously, do I need so many straws on my kitchen shelf to collect dust?

I have always blown hot and cold over the climate change issue. Not in the way that US President Donald Trump thinks that global warming is a hoax, but whether humans can do much change to weather conditions.

It’s undeniable that the weather is getting hotter, rainstorms are heavier and we have to do all we can to ameliorate the rate and impact of climate change, because that’s all we can do, nature’s will or not.

“Climate change may seem abstract and distant for many of us. But it is one of the gravest challenges facing humankind”; said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the National Day Rally this August.

A new research centre and impressive coastal protection plans were introduced at the rally. But when PM Lee came to the nation’s climate change mitigation plans, only two things stood out for me: the $5 per tonne of GHG carbon tax and the innovativeness of young people. He lauded the young for doing their part.

Young Singaporeans have been “problem-solver, innovators, scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs” who have been pushing the climate change agenda. We even fashioned metal straws into the new black.

In 2013, Samantha Thian, 25, founded Seastainable, a local startup that sells metal straws in an attempt to combat plastic waste. Half of the profits go to marine conservation projects like Save Philippine Seas.

Institutions and companies have caught up in such winds of change. NTUC FairPrice outlets, for example, have ditched plastic bags. Go to any fair or exhibition at Suntec City and you will probably get a reusable bag to hold all your brochures and pamphlets. My university gives out a reusable tote or drawstring bag every year at its Open house to woo prospective students.

I now have over 30 tote bags at home and not to mention 5 metal straws. My friends and relatives have also been amassing such items, usually unwittingly.

It’s a good thing that marketing collaterals are so eco-friendly. But each attempt to encourage people to adopt more sustainable habits renders the opposite effect. We are left with an excess of items given in the name of sustainability. Worse still, some of us also purchase these items because they think that the stores offer a better design.

It takes much more energy to make your metal straw compared to a plastic straw. And if you take the whole carbon lifecycle into consideration from generation to delivery, you would need to use your metal straws 150 times before you can offset the energy it takes if you use a plastic straw each time. As for tote bags, you have to use one at least 104 times to make a difference to the environment.

On the ground, there is little that we can do in terms of product packaging and manufacturing. But perhaps it’s our whole understanding of sustainability as a population that we need to look at. We live in a capitalist society; sustainability cannot be bought. Buying a pack of metal straws or 20 tote bags does not make you more environmentally-friendly.

Why buy when something else lying around in the house could be used in its stead? Like that random plastic or paper bag that can surely be found if you looked around hard enough. A stainless steel food container? A regular plastic box that you have at home should suffice. And beeswax wraps? Using a plate as a cover does the trick too.

We need to think about our own waste and purchasing habits. Do we really need to buy something when something else, perhaps, not as trendy, can be recycled and re-used? Should we start buying “green’’ clothes when our wardrobe is already overflowing? Are we merely latching on to a trend, rather than thinking deeper about whether our well-intentioned actions, can do more harm than good? This is something for marketeers to think about when they embark on campaigns or package products.

So before you hop on to the next trend and get that Stojo collapsible travel cup, you might want to give your kitchen shelf a quick check.

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