The next time you use a plastic straw, think about the turtles!
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There are two kinds of people in this world -- those who sip and those who suck.

I've belonged to the latter for as long as I can remember -- the bendy plastic straw accompanying almost all my beverages. Hand me a cola without that lean tube sticking out, and the drink feels naked to me.

So, imagine my horror when I was handed my glass of jaljeera without a straw! I almost didn't want it anymore, what with the experience being incomplete without the beloved drinking tube and its accordion neck that makes sipping so convenient.

To be honest, that's when the blanket ban on plastic in Maharashtra really hit me. No more straws? Who wants to live in a world without plastic straws?

Well, as I soon realised, everyone!

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Particularly our friends from the marine world -- who, I learned after taking the pledge to #UnPlastic, are the ones that really bear the brunt of my few moments of mindless sipping luxury.

Straws Suck
It didn’t take time for me to say “straws suck” once I watched this video by Christine Figgener who traveled to Costa Rica in 2015 to study ridley sea turtles. While examining a male turtle, Figgener and her colleagues found a long plastic straw lodged in the turtle’s nostril. Her video of the team extracting the straw went viral and rattled several people, including me.

I discovered several movements -- One Less Straw, Last Straw and For a Strawless Ocean, to name a few -- that have been spreading awareness on the frivolity of the plastic straw.

Closer home, earlier this year, 13-year-old Gurugram boy, Aditya Mukarji, managed to convince restaurants across NCR to phase out 5 lakh straws, reported the Financial Express. Not only did Mukarji write letters based on months of research, but also took the restaurants through educational presentations that informed them about the harmful effects of plastic on the environment. He now aims to get 10 lakh straws removed from food outlets by the year-end.

Unnecessary Luxury
Think ‘plastic ban’ and the most commonly targeted evils are plastic bags and bottles. It's only after I pledged to #UnPlastic from straws that I considered, for the first time, how much of a 'taken-for-granted' luxury this single-use plastic item really is, and how easily it can be done without. Meanwhile, over the past half-a-century or so, plastic straws have continued to unnecessarily contribute to the already burgeoning burden of global plastic pollution. According to the Science Magazine, if current production, consumption and waste management trends continue, we will be dealing with 12 billion tonnes of global plastic waste by 2050.

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It’s no wonder then, that governments around the world -- the most recent being Europe -- are working to outlaw the use of this unnecessary luxury. In the US alone, 500 million plastic straws are used and discarded every day -- that's an average of 1.6 straws per person!

The figure made sense when I took into account the number of times I've requested a plastic straw when I could so easily have just sipped my beverage or the number of times we've used a plastic straw for nothing more than casually stirring our drink or all those plastic straws that serve no purpose other than being an ornament on a cocktail.

To add to it, I haven't come across any legit stats, but if there were any -- I'm sure the plastic straw would emerge as the quickest disposed plastic item. Sometimes we dispose of a plastic straw in a mere few seconds -- or however long it takes to get to the bottom of a tender coconut.

Sustainable Switch
My concern for how I would ever relish tender coconut water the same way again was quickly put to rest when I discovered the existence of environment-friendly alternatives to the plastic straw.

Following the state-wide ban, milkshakes from local outlets began arriving with paper straws but their tendency to dissolve quickly limited them to instant use. It's perhaps this feedback that has a popular milkshake brand, that declined to comment on its plastic policy, on the fence about the idea of doing away with plastic straws entirely.

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Meanwhile, McDonald’s -- that distributes 95 million plastic straws at its 36,000 outlets worldwide on a daily basis -- could have been a pioneering global brand in the fight against plastic straws. That is until its shareholders played buzzkill and recently rejected a proposal by activist group SumOfUs that asked the fast food chain to prepare a report on its use of plastic straws.

On the other hand, Starbucks, that has the trademark green straw integral to almost all its products, has begun taking steps towards sustainable options. “We have introduced compostable straws for west of India and will transition the same across all our stores in the country,” confirmed a Tata Starbucks spokesperson.

BYOS
While the ban in Maharashtra officially kicks in from June 23, most restaurants and cinema theatres continue to offer plastic straws with beverages. This didn't make sticking to the pledge easy but I decided to Refuse, Reduce and Reuse.

My first win was refusing the plastic straw when it was offered to me at a pizzeria in Bandra. However, I faced a setback at a cinema hall in Juhu when the staff pierced the plastic lid on the cola with a straw before I had the chance to refuse it. I succumbed, telling myself -- now that the deed was done, I might as well use it -- besides a straw is useful for sipping in the dark without spilling. Although I might add, each sip was guilt-ridden.

Enter Suck In, Rhea Chabbria's effort to rid the environment of plastic straws. Thanks to their thoughtfully designed sustainable straws -- available in bamboo and steel varieties -- I can sip guilt-free, reuse, and gladly refuse the plastic straw. In fact, the steel straws that come in carrying pouches with a cleaning brush can easily make 'Bring Your Own Straw' a thing.

Turning a New Leaf
While we wait for eateries to catch up, several hotel chains across the country have begun taking steps to reduce their use of plastic.

Once it became a part of the AccorHotels Group’s Planet 21 programme, Fairmont Jaipur has become more conscious of its carbon footprint. “While we are yet to do away with them completely, our food and beverage department is taking extra care to ensure the least use of plastic in the form of takeaway containers, straws, and cutlery,” said Srijan Vadhera, General Manager, Fairmont Jaipur.

In compliance with the norms mandated by the government, Sofitel Mumbai BKC has exhausted its stock of single-use plastic items and discontinued their use. “Articles such as plastic straws have been replaced with paper straws and plastic cutlery has been replaced with wooden cutlery,” said Bernard Fernandes, Procurement Manager, Sofitel Mumbai BKC.

At ibis and Novotel Bengaluru Techpark too, single-use plastic can no longer be found. Maverik Mukerji, General Manager confirmed that both hotels had switched to alternatives, “We do not offer plastic straws to our guests and use paper boxes, BAGAS plates and silver foil for takeaways.”

While it may take time for sustainable alternatives to entirely replace plastic items in our daily lives, eliminating the use of plastic straws can be an easy, starting step for #UnPlastic Warriors in training.

Click here to take a pledge and go plastic-free.

Image conceptualised by Vartika Pahuja; Image source: Shutterstock

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