Since the inception of Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup (ICC) in 1986, plastic straws and stirrers have made the top ten list of items collected on beaches worldwide. Over the last few decades, ICC volunteers have picked up nearly 10 million straws. To address this issue, Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas Program launched an I Skip the Straw Campaign in 2014 that requests individuals and restaurants to consume and serve drinks without a plastic straw. The campaign gained tens of thousands of signatures, and the Skip the Straw movement has built a following nationally and globally.
Last year, I had the pleasure of speaking about Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas Program to the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI). After my presentation, Evi Nur Alviah—a University student from Yogyakarta, Indonesia—approached me. Evi was enthusiastic about the issue of marine debris, and we spoke in-depth about the Skip the Straw program. Evi and I have stayed in contact since. Evi began a campaign, #ZeroStraw, in Yogyakarta, Indonesia and wanted to share her work with Ocean Currents!
Tess Krasne: Evi, could you tell me about your inspiration behind #ZeroStraw?
Evi Nur Alviah: During my visit to Ocean Conservancy through YSEALI Academic Fellows Montana 2017 program, I learned that plastic straws are among the top 10 marine debris items. When I returned to Indonesia, I began to notice that all the food stalls in my town use plastic straws. Because of how small plastic straws are, many people underestimate the damage of them. This realization made me want to educate others on the issue of plastic straws. So, I began #ZeroStraw to compliment Ocean Conservancy’s Skip the Straw campaign.
Krasne: I agree, without reflection, straws can seem harmless, but when you realize just how many are used every day, and where they may end up, it becomes concerning. In America, 500 million plastic straws are used and disposed of a day—and a national movement is underway to reduce this number.
I’m excited that Skip the Straw is going global! Could you tell me more about the work you’re doing for #Zerostraw in Yogyakarta?
Nur Alviah: This year for American Corner University of Muhammadiyah Yogyakarta’s Earth Day, YSEALI launched #Zerostraw CAMPaign. We selected 30 passionate high school and college students to participate in a #Zerostraw workshop by camping with us in Goa Cemara, Bantul in Yogyakarta. Leading up to the event, the students participated in the #Zerostraw challenge, meaning that they could not use any plastic straws, though we did give them a personal bamboo straw as an alternative!
Krasne: Could you tell me more about the CAMPaign weekend workshop and activities?
Nur Alviah: We kicked off the weekend with a discussion of plastic straws and how they impact ocean life and broke the ice by discussing how our week without plastic straws went. With 30 smart and passionate students, there was a lot to talk about! Bayu Nugroho, a high school student from Tiga Maret High School said “Actually, it’s very simple why we can’t live without straw; we as humans nowadays are getting very lazy, we’re even too lazy to drink through our own mouth!” After discussing the problem, we worked to identify solutions. Students came up with ideas for next steps, including creating a trash facility to better dispose of these items, educating more people on the issue, banning the use of plastic straws in our school and developing a bio-plastic alternative.
After the discussion, we all participated in a beach cleanup. Everyone was very enthusiastic, and as a group we collected many big sacks of trash. Imagine how much trash could be collected if everyone joined in on this action!
Our last activity was visiting stalls near the coast and speaking with the stall-owners about the dangers of plastic straws and providing them with biodegradable straws.
Krasne: Wow, it sounds like the event was a success! You’re probably still recovering from the big weekend, but what do you think will come next with #Zerostraw?
Nur Alviah: All the participants went home with a better understanding of the problem and the tools to take action in their communities. Hopefully after this Earth Day, #Zerostraw exercise environmental problems will be reduced a little bit because every little action makes a difference. We learned so much from the experience and will continue to speak out to an even wider community on how to reduce our impact on our ocean.
Join the movement! Commit to skipping the straw and add your voice to the sea of people taking a stand for the ocean. Sign the pledge now and remember to order your drink without a straw. It is a small step that goes a long way for ocean health. Take the pledge today.