What goes into the perfect gin and tonic? Quality gin, for one. Tonic water — ideally from a glass bottle. A fruit garnish (lime or cucumber, depending on the gin) and a tower of ice cubes. All necessary components in a balanced, four-part harmony. A plastic straw, placed triumphantly into the glass by your bartender? Or one you've fished out of a dusty pint glass on the corner of the bar? Not necessary.
While the plastic straw has always seemed like the final puzzle piece, recent times have seen a move away from these often arbitrary additions to our drinks. And it's becoming ever more prevalent that this arbitrary addition is having a global impact. While there's no exact figure for Australia, it's estimated that 500 million plastic straws are used and discarded every day in the US — that's enough to fill 125 school buses.
With this in mind, venues across Australia are beginning to acknowledge the impact this plastic waste is having on our oceans and ecosystems, and many have begun phasing out non-reusable straws and offering eco-friendly alternatives. Brisbane's Crowbar began phasing out single-use plastic straws in 2016, stating publicly on social media, "we are conscious of the environmental impact of plastic and are taking steps to reduce our footprint". Sydney's Dead Ringer announced late last year that it had eliminated plastic straws in favour of reusable metal straws and Pink Moon Saloon in Adelaide has a sign hanging above the bar stating, "save a turtle, don't use a plastic straw". The Last Straw, an initiative aiming to end the use of plastic straws in Australia, keeps an extensive list of venues committed to the cause.
In Melbourne, many bars have followed suit, including Dr Morse in Abbotsford, which announced its intention to go plastic-straw free in the winter of 2017. Bar manager Jac Morgan says, "there was a bit of customer backlash when we decided to go completely straw free, but since we've brought in alternatives most customers don't even notice the difference". The bar replaced all plastic straws with paper straws (that are fully recyclable) and a bamboo resin alternative, which only takes three months to break down.
To put this in perspective, the plastic straw you picked up on a whim winds up in a landfill site and takes up to 500 years to degrade (some scientists say it never fully degrades). If not in landfill, then the ocean — lodging itself in a turtle's nose or being ingested by an animal and steadily making its way up the food chain. It's understood that by 2050, plastic will outweigh fish in our oceans.
Morgan says that the phasing out of plastic straws is a trend sweeping the hospitality industry, "there's definitely movement happening; a lot of venues have been trialling alternatives to plastics, even major venues and nightclubs". And customers are recognising and taking part in the shift, too. "We have a high turnover of clientele and we've noticed a lot of people saying no to straws altogether," says Morgan. "When we were using plastic straws, we'd easily get through 2500 a week. Nowadays, with the bamboo alternative positioned behind the bar, usage has dropped to around 2500 a month." Out of sight, out of mind.
Countries around the world are acknowledging the threat of non-degradable plastics to our ecosystem. Canada and the UK have banned the use of microbeads in cosmetics and personal care products, with New Zealand and Ireland expected to follow suit. In 2016, France enacted a ban on plastic cups, plates and cutlery, which will come into effect in 2020. South Australia banned the use of single-use plastic bags back in 2009 — with ACT following suit in 2010, NT in 2011, Tasmania in 2012 and Queensland this year — establishing itself as a frontrunner in Australia's war against waste.
It's clear that a small change can have a huge impact. So next time you're out and about, consider partying without the plastic.
International Straw Free Day is on Saturday February 3, 2018. For more information on ways you can encourage venues to ditch the plastic, visit The Last Straw.