NUS cam­paigner Rob­bie Young: stu­dents, lay down your straws

The Guardian Australia - - Environment - Tess Ri­ley

Rob­bie Young has had enough.

“We’re sur­rounded by plas­tic straws. 500 mil­lion of them are used and dis­carded ev­ery day in the United States alone, with fa­tal con­se­quences for the wildlife that swal­lows them. As young peo­ple we have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to do some­thing about that.”

Young is the vice pres­i­dent of so­ci­ety and cit­i­zen­ship at the Na­tional Union of Stu­dents (NUS), which has just launched #TheLastS­traw cam­paign to en­cour­age stu­dents and their unions to pledge to stop us­ing sin­gle-use plas­tic straws.

The ini­tia­tive is the lat­est of a string of moves re­duce our con­sump­tion of sin­gle-use plas­tic items such as wa­ter bot­tles, plas­tic bags and cof­fee cups. High-street pub chain Wether­spoon’s an­nounced in Septem­ber it will stop us­ing plas­tic straws by the end of this year and cam­paigns are un­der­way for companies such as McDon­ald’s and Tesco to fol­low suit. Last year, Tesco com­mit­ted to ban the sale of plas­tic­stemmed cot­ton buds – the most com­mon lit­ter from toi­lets flushed on to the coun­try’s beaches – by the end of 2017.

While we don’t yet know the full ex­tent of the im­pact of plas­tics and mi­croplas­tics – plas­tic de­bris less than five mil­lime­ters in length – we do know that marine an­i­mals in­clud­ing fish, whales and seabirds are con­fus­ing mi­croplas­tics for food, with po­ten­tially fa­tal con­se­quences. In terms of hu­man health, many of the chem­i­cals used in plas­tics are toxic or hor­mone dis­rup­tors. A re­cent in­ves­ti­ga­tion by Orb Me­dia found mi­croplas­tic con­tam­i­na­tion in tap wa­ter around the world, lead­ing to calls from sci­en­tists for ur­gent re­search into the health im­pli­ca­tions.

“As a younger gen­er­a­tion we’re very quick to blame older gen­er­a­tions when it comes to ques­tions about our fu­ture, but how are we go­ing to ex­plain to gen­er­a­tions to come that we ru­ined our oceans for a straw or a cup of cof­fee,” says 29year-old Young.

As well as en­cour­ag­ing stu­dents and stu­dent union bars to ditch plas­tic straws, Young says the NUS can use the col­lec­tive pur­chas­ing power of NUS Ser­vices, the com­mer­cial arm of the NUS which bulk buys sup­plies for union bars, to source me­tal and pa­per straw al­ter­na­tives.

Stu­dents can play a vi­tal role in driv­ing sus­tain­abil­ity, ac­cord­ing to An­drew Taylor, co-di­rec­tor of cam­paigns and com­mu­ni­ca­tions at Peo­ple amp; Planet.

“Stu­dents have been cam­paign­ing for decades for a sus­tain­able world and re­duc­ing plas­tic waste has been part of that for a long time. Some cam­puses have shown real lead­er­ship, like Leeds which has banned plas­tic bot­tles. With­out stu­dents mak­ing noise on the ground, not much changes in many in­sti­tu­tions.”

Fol­low Guardian Stu­dents on Twit­ter: @Gd­nS­tu­dents. For grad­u­ate ca­reer op­por­tu­ni­ties, take a look at Guardian Jobs.

500m straws are used and dis­carded ev­ery day in the US. Pho­to­graph: Ilka amp; Franz/Getty Im­ages

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