NUS campaigner Robbie Young: students, lay down your straws
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.”
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500m straws are used and discarded every day in the US. Photograph: Ilka amp; Franz/Getty Images