For all the shit we’ve given influencers here at Popspoken, we can’t deny that genuine interpersonal marketing still has its effects on consumers.
That’s why, after many years of ignoring Earth Hour (it’s a cute idea), I found myself sipping a pint of IPA through a metal straw in a sports bar at Tanjong Pagar, looking every bit an environmental warrior.
It only took an eco-conscious friend and his persistent Instastories about weather patterns and how we’re killing penguins to change my mind.
I’ll backtrack. Metal straws may just be the latest fad, and I’m not the most fiscally conservative when it comes to fads and impractical buys.
At the Singles’ Day online sale last November, my friends and I picked up fish slippers for $6 and wore them together. I still stand by my purchase, because look:
But I was determined that with every straw I haughtily declined, the Earth would be a better, healthier place, and those penguins would live to see another day. How those events are linked, however, I didn’t fully understand.
I gave myself a week with my metal straw, drinking everything I could through it, save for hot soups and water. I also named it Strawie, thinking I would be less likely to lose something I had an emotional attachment to.
I DIDN’T BRING STRAWIE OUT. Being a vainpot (with fish slippers, obviously), I switched bags and left the straw, the fate of the penguins, and this article’s respectability at home.
We’re off to a great start.
Lunch showed me how mindless our straw use could be, as I excitedly ordered a ginger ale to begin this week of environmental heroics. I yakked about how penguins are my new passion project to tepid response from friends.
Said enthusiasm disappeared faster than our polar ice caps when our drinks arrived… with straws.
Plucking that yellow plastic straw out of the glass and replacing it with Strawie felt like a tone-deaf attempt at environmentalism. Kinda like setting the air-conditioning at 18°C to fight global warming.
I washed Strawie with my tears after lunch.
Hump day and I’m convinced that I’ve done nothing for the penguins. I ordered a teh-o kosong bing, because the government says sugar is evil. This time, I make it clear to the uncle taking my drink order that I do not want a straw. I didn’t blink while saying that and may have scared him a little.
Ignoring yet another yellow plastic straw in my friend’s glass, cheers to the one penguin saved!
I’ve upgraded Strawie’s resting place from the plastic packaging it came in (the irony is not lost on me) to an IKEA ziploc bag. I plan to reuse this bag, so calm down.
Over lunch I realised that my takeaway meal of ayam penyet and Old Chang Kee gyoza involved more disposable plastic than the tiny straw I’ve cut out from my plastic use.
I’m drinking beer through a straw. In public. At a bar.
Was it strange? Of course it was strange.
Did I get judged by the boisterous lady boss, who savagely emasculated a guy on a date at the next table by referring to him as “ah boy“? Sure I did.
Was it embarrassing? Yes, but not doing my part for the environment is even more embarrassing.
But this was honestly extra af. Who drinks beer with a straw? 0/10 would recommend.
This is the part where we drive the point home that straws are evil. Except, I learnt about how Singapore has grappled with its plastic waste problem for years, and how being eco-conscious is an uphill task.
I learnt that metal straws are a commitment, not unlike remembering your phone and keys when leaving the house. They are also easy to misplace — I foresee my forgetful ass leaving Strawies behind at least once a month or more.
I learnt that despite my efforts at using a metal straw, disposable materials have become so common that I am blind to my own usage. Plastic bags, plastic utensils, styrofoam packaging — these easily outweigh the tube of plastic that I refuse.
Singapore has a mounting plastic waste problem that we would prefer to ignore. Singaporean households disposed of about 1.67 million tonnes of waste in 2017, according to a life-cycle assessment study published by the National Environmental Agency (NEA) earlier this year.
Of this, about one-third consisted of packaging waste, which included single-use disposables such as plastic bags and food packaging.
In 2015, Singapore’s domestic recycling rate was 19 per cent, placing us below other developed economies like the United Kingdom and Taiwan, where the household recycling rates in 2013 were already at 44.2 per cent and 42 per cent, respectively.
Granted, this may be due to the high proportion of citizens who live in high-rise apartments, like HDB flats, using plastic bags to dispose of wet refuse.
The ease of acquiring plastic bags here could also be a factor. Most places in Singapore hand out plastic bags for free. In contrast, blue garbage bags are sold at convenience stores from NT$1 (4.5 cents SGD) in Taiwan.
Taiwan citizens are expected to separate their trash into non-recyclables, kitchen waste, and recyclables, which can then be recycled at designated pick up areas.
But I also learnt that local brands are beginning to see the urgency of Singapore’s plastic waste issue. Local food court chain Koufu set a national record in March this year by having 198 people enjoy their drinks with bamboo straws simultaneously.
Held at Koufu at Singapore Management University (SMU), the record-setting feat accompanied the launch of the chain’s No Plastic Straw initiative. Koufu at SMU has since eliminated the use of plastic straws entirely.
Globally, furniture giant and Swedish cultural ambassador IKEA announced last week that it will phase out all single-use plastic products from its stores and restaurants by 1 Jan 2020. This includes plastic straws, plates, cups, freezer bags, bin bags, and plastic-coated paper plates and cups.
It’s one thing to applaud businesses that boldly decide to cut an item off their expenditure in the name of environmentalism (not unlike Apple’s courageous removal of the headphone jack from the iPhone 7), but it’s another to expect that a solution to these issues will appear the harder we ignore them.
If we are to quit our reliance on plastic straws cold turkey through a hard ban, substitutes like metal or bamboo straws may be the nicotine patch we need.
If we pride ourselves on being a little red dot, let’s make sure that our plastic waste is proportionately minuscule.
How prepared are you for the last straw?
A portion of this article has been reproduced with permission from The Nanyang Chronicle.