Just 2 weeks ago, fast food chain KFC Singapore declared that as a means of reducing the strain that single-use plastics put on the environment, all 84 outlets would no longer be serving drinks with plastic caps and straws.
Part of their ‘No Straws Initiative’, General Manager Lynette Lee shared that they “are proud to be the first fast food restaurant in Singapore” to champion the move.
It was also estimated that with the move, there would be a reduction of 17.8 metric tons of single-use plastics in a year.
KFC Singapore is just one of the many establishments making a stand in the war against single-use plastic.
Earlier in June, furniture megachain IKEA also announced that it was working to “stop selling single-use plastic products such as straws, cups and freezer bags by Jan 1, 2020”.
In a “UK Plastics Pact”, 42 firms in the United Kingdom had also agreed to step up on efforts to eliminate single-use plastic packaging by 2025. The firms include major food and drink brands, supermarkets, manufacturers, retailers, and plastic re-processors.
It’s not just a matter of corporates hopping onto yet another bandwagon (remember when ICOs were a thing?) – plastic waste is a huge problem for our oceans and the creatures that live in them.
Last December, 193 countries also signed a United Nations resolution in Nairobi to eliminate plastic pollution in the sea.
Under the resolution, countries agreed to start monitoring the amount of plastic they put into the ocean.
Added chief of public advocacy at UNEP Sam Barrat, “While this is not a treaty, significant progress is being made […] 39 governments announced new commitments to reduce the amount of plastic going into the sea.”
In the war against plastic waste, countries and corporates definitely have a large role to play – but that doesn’t mean that as consumers, all we can do is wait for change to happen.
From opting to dabao our lunches in reusable tupperware containers, or taking a leaf from Bring-Your-Own-Bag businesses, there are many ways to use less plastic.
But perhaps one of the easiest ways to get started is by simply saying “no” whenever you’re given a chance to use a plastic straw, and instead use an alternative like bamboo straws.
A 24-year-old Singaporean is offering us yet another alternative, and has sold over 3,500 of them since inception.
From Passion Project To Part-Time Business
Samantha Thian, or Sam, is the founder of Seastainable, a homegrown startup that’s helping us to fight plastic waste, one metal straw at a time.
A business graduate from the National University of Singapore (NUS), Sam is currently working full-time in Human Resources in the manufacturing (FCMG) industry and runs Seastainable as a side business.
“I used to be very actively involved in marine conservation projects in the Philippines,” she shared in an interview with us. “I was very inspired by Philippine initiatives to go green, especially SIP Philippines and Save Philippines Seas (SPS).”
“However, upon graduating, I realised that I would have to remain in Singapore to work, and hence I created Seastainable […] as a passion project, for me to give back to marine conservation from Singapore.”
But why take the extra step to source for and sell metal straws, as compared to simply spreading awareness via talks or roadshows?
“Over the years, peers and my friends were always telling me they wanted to do marine conservation, but couldn’t commit the funds or the time.”
I realised that supporting marine conservation was not only just field work, but also simple things like reducing our plastic use.
“I conceptualised the idea where consumers could purchase metal straws to serve two purposes – reducing their plastic intake, and knowing that they are supporting marine conservation at the same time.”
For every Seastainable straw sold, Sam contributes 50% of the profits to marine conservation.
Seastainable’s biggest partner currently is Save Philippine Seas, and she works with them to help choose individuals for the A B Seas programme, where participants get to “immerse themselves in a weekend of experiential learning about marine conservation”.
Although we may not get the opportunity to interact with the ocean everyday, there is still a part we can play in protecting it.
The Irony Of Selling Eco-Friendly Products Wrapped In Plastic
The origins of Seastainable actually began when Sam used to conduct mini sprees on her personal Instagram account for reusable straws from the Philippines.
Realising the rising interest in those straws, she decided to take it a step further, officially launching Seastainable on the 6th of January this year.
While setting up the business was a “pretty straightforward” process for her, the biggest challenge cropped up when she was looking to go completely plastic-free in packaging and manufacturing.
I realised it was ironic how people were selling environmentally-friendly goods such as tupperware and metal straws wrapped in plastic!
“I had to find suppliers that did not ship the products in plastic, and at the same time, designed a product that was easy to ship via paper envelopes.”
Sam also admitted that juggling both a full-time job and a side business hasn’t been easy, but is grateful that her family and friends have been “very supportive” all this while.
“For me, I think it’s important to know when to take a break, recover, and then continue the work. On weeks that I am very busy, I usually close orders till the weekend when I have the time to pack and manage.”
“I Hope Eventually That I Will Have No Business”
A quick check on Seastainable’s online store reveals that all their straws are currently sold out – something that my friends and I had faced a few months back when we tried to order our straws.
Laughed Sam, “Haha, yeah, they’re sold out quickly because I don’t bring large quantities!”
I actually struggled for a time with the idea of this business. Like, ‘Am I contributing to consumerism, or really effecting a change in plastic use?’
This is also why, unlike other businesses, she does not engage in blatant marketing of her products.
I don’t think it’s right to hype metal straws up if someone isn’t going to commit to using it full-time, or only uses it because it’s cool.
“That’s why I believe that it’s important to emphasise that we should only buy a metal straw if we really need one, or go without it completely.”
But even with this unconventional approach, Seastainable has managed to sell 3,500 metal straw sets to date.
“If these 3,500 sets were used to refuse a plastic straw at least 10 times, I’d be glad to know Seastainable has prevented at least 35,000 plastic straws from being sent to the landfill or entering our oceans,” she quipped.
I hope eventually that I will have no business because everyone in Singapore will stop using a plastic straw or even a metal straw!