Interview with The Last Straw Australia

10 September 2015
Over the last year I have been wanting to get out from behind my computer and spread the plastic free, less waste message offline. It has been a slow process. The beginning of that journey began not too long ago when I shared my plan to ask a local café to remove their plastic straws. You can read about that here.

Turns out I am not the only Aussie who thinks plastic straws should be reduced in this country. While working in hospitality Eva Mackinley saw the volume of plastic straws that were sent out with drinks. While working in a moderately busy Hobart bar Eva estimates 20,000 plastic straws are used each year. Eva began to think about the plastic straws handed out at other bars in larger cities like Melbourne and Sydney. Then there are the busy take away franchises that also supply thousands of plastic straws each year.

Eva saw it as a massive problem and one she believed could be changed. And so The Last Straw Australia was created.

I discovered The Last Straw Australia about the time I was getting ready to speak to my local café. Being equally inspired by her efforts I decided to invite Eva onto the blog for a chat and tell us about The Last Straw Australia...

Interview with The Last Straw Australia

What is The Last Straw Australia about?
The Last Straw is about reducing and eventually eliminating the use of the plastic straw in Australia. We see plastic straws as an unnecessary luxury with a massive negative impact. There is a massive disconnect between what people hold in their hands or put on their plates and where it comes from or what it means for the world on the big scale. Plastic straws are a perfect example- people don't need them. At all. They are nothing more than a convenience, yet because of social convention they are slowly clogging up our waterways and our landfill to the tune of hundreds of millions per day across the globe. Would anyone use them if they understood the impact they were having? Hopefully not. The Last Straw is about encouraging behavior change in venues and consumers to stem the tide of unnecessary plastic waste going over the bar every day. 

"The Last Straw is a campaign to reduce the use of plastic straws in venues around Australia."

What prompted you to start the campaign? 
Like I said above, I have worked in hospitality for a long time to fund my social volunteerism. I always saw the two things as completely separate, but one day as I was dumping a bucket load of used straws in the bin, I asked myself for the first time where they would actually be going. I did a bit of research about straw use and the impact of mass plastic waste and figured this was something that needed to change in a big way. There are so many campaigns and organizations out there striving to reduce plastic waste, which is amazing to see. We like to see our point of difference as working with venues, who are some of the biggest sources of straw waste. The more of us out there advocating for this cause- the better.

What has been the challenges faced so far?
So far we haven't come up across any big hurdles- thank goodness! People have been incredibly receptive to the cause. I can't imagine anyone advocating for more plastic waste. But I imagine we'll come up across some difficulties when we start challenging people behind bars not to give straws out. It's a hard thing to break habit, and the service industry is so used to straws being a tool of the trade. I imagine we'll face some tough nuts who don't want to affect the experience of their customers. But that's why the campaign in consumer facing too- so that people won't want or expect a straw in their drink anyway. Hopefully this will make the process of change a lot easier!

Interview with The Last Straw Australia

If any readers would like to approach a café/restaurant/bar and ask them to stop handing out plastic straws, what is your advice on how to approach them?
Get in touch with us! Over the next couple of months we'll be developing a kit for people to do just that.

But other than that, I'd say three things:
  • Give them a strong reason why. And there are so many compelling ones!
  • Give them an easy action that won't disrupt their day to day business too much. It could be replacing their straws with re-usable ones or just having a policy of staff asking people if they want a straw instead of just handing them out
  • Make it a community issue- there's an amazing campaign going on in Bondi at the moment to end the use of plastic straws in local businesses to keep the beach clean. Make it political- no council likes to look messy in the public eye. 

And what would be your advice for people that want to talk to friends about refusing plastic straws?
First of all, do some research and get ready to drop some plastic facts on them. Straw use is often something people have never thought about, and once they do it's probably going to be pretty easy to get them ordering their drink without one. At the end of the day, this is not an 'activist' issue- it's a common sense issue. You're not asking them to chain themselves to a bulldozer- you're asking them to drink their drink just from the cup, like we were made to do. Nobody wants to see oceans full of plastic or animals choking on our rubbish. Just mention it casually and drop a stat and I'm sure they'll change their minds!

Do you know of any venues that offer reusable straws? How are they finding it? Will you be making a list similar to Responsible Cafes? (they let people know where cafes in Australia offer discounts on reusable cups)
I definitely have heard of a few that have gone straw-free, or have decided to introduce reusable metal straws (think of it as just like using a knife and fork at a restaurant). It's a hard change for a business to make, so it helps when consumers are supportive.

Part of The Last Straw is working closely with venues to get them thinking about all the ways they can reduce their plastic straw use- and we want to reward them for that! So part of the plan is to add venues to our website when they sign on as part of The Last Straw so people can see which venues are making a concerted effort to be ethical with their plastic waste.

How can people get involved with The Last Straw Australia?
We're very young, having launched just over a month ago. So we are at the point now where any help is massively appreciated! On a basic level, just liking our Facebook page or following us on Twitter is amazing! The more public reach we have, the more leverage we have to get venues on board!

If you want to go next level, shoot us an email at and let us know if you have any ideas or skills or anything that you think might help out. We're looking at focusing ourselves in Hobart and Melbourne to begin with, so any people power there would be amazing.

What plans does The Last Straw Australia have for the future?
So. Many. Working with venues is just the start- we want to see plastic straws legislated against or similar leadership steps taken within business the same way it has been for plastic bags. We want to see closed community events like festivals use organic waste bins and adapt a policy for all their stall holders to use bio packaging for food and drinks so that it can all be composted properly. We want to join with other similar organizations and lobby for organic waste bins to be accessible to hospitality venues so they can switch to biodegradable straws and dispose of them properly. And most of all, we want to see a complete end to the use of the plastic straw across Australia.

It's totally possible- all it takes is some people power and a tiny shift in behavior to make it happen.
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