UW ahead of the curve on plastic-free straw campaign

In 32 years, the ocean is slated to have a 1:1 ratio of plastic and fish. Since the ‘50s, plastic production has multiplied by 20, reaching 311 million tons in 2014.

This is why the Lonely Whale Foundation decided to advocate for marine life protection. Founded by actor Adrian Grenier and producer Lucy Sumner, the foundation began with a global initiative and then tacked on hyperlocal ones.

In Seattle, the campaign is spearheaded by Strawless in Seattle and goes by #StopSucking. The campaign’s goal is to eradicate plastic straws — not straws in general.

Via The Daily

“For us, Strawless in Seattle is not about the straw. It is really about our relationship to plastic and how pervasive single-use plastics are in our everyday life for which we have very few recyclable options in front of us,” Lonely Whale’s executive director Dune Ives said.

She explained while most people tend to focus on the straw, others have surprised the campaign by bringing it to the next level. People have started looking for ways to replace plastic lids, shipment packaging, and utensils.

In fact, the UW has been doing this since 2007 when they first focused on removing plastic utensils. No on-campus UW dining locations use plastic straws or utensils. The UW instead uses compostable ones.

In 2015, the UW worked with Starbucks and Cell-O-Core, a production company using BPI-approved resin, to develop the first-ever green compostable straw for Starbucks-licensed stores.

“We worked closely with Starbucks and were given their dye specs for the trademark green straw,” said Kara Carlson from UW Housing & Food Services. “Then worked with Cell-O-Core to develop a compostable version.”

Carlson hopes other locations, like the UW Club and offices on campus use compostable products, but she cannot verify all are. The UW, however, is one of the leading universities diverting waste production.

Meanwhile, Ives noted straws are more crucial for some people than others. For example, people with autism and tremors typically rely on straws because they spill cups. Ives said people with physical limitations are often overlooked in campaigns like hers. To remedy this, the Lonely Whale Foundation has done straw tests to see what works. Turns out, biodegradable plastic has a stickiness to it that is more convenient than your average plastic straw.

So why Seattle? Cities allow for better impact analysis. Regardless, the foundation still maintains global initiatives, localized in more than seven languages and working in more than 30 countries.

“We wanted to see what happens when you ask an entire city to go plastic straw free,” Ives said. “It’s worked exceptionally well.”

Strawless in Seattle has partnered with the Seattle Aquarium, Seattle Mariners, Safeco Field, Sea-Tac Airport, Port of Seattle, CenturyLink Field, and more.

There’s been so much support that Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) tends to work closely with the Lonely Whale Foundation. SPU receives questions about Strawless in Seattle, and directs inquiries to the foundation. The foundation itself also gets a lot of questions about policy in Seattle. As it turns out, SPU has a 2008 ordinance that phases out plastic straws and utensils. It excludes grocery and supply stores, however. City leaders additionally banned plastic grocery bags in 2012, creating a $250 fine for retailers who don’t comply.

For Ives, millennials and younger Generation Xers are a bit more involved. They tend to have higher degrees of affinity in healthy ocean environments, she explained, because it’s so pervasive in their lives compared to other generations. These two groups, the foundation has shown, have a desire to do more about pollution.

“We’re huge believers in market leadership, we’re not a policy shop,” Ives said. “We believe strength in the community really relies in what the market decides to pick up and move forward with. I think the policy conversations fall naturally from there. It’s really important for policy and market conditions to rely with each other. That’s how we’re approaching the straw conversation.”

While measuring impact is extremely important to the Lonely Whale Foundation, consumers make it complicated.

“If you had to depend on me to save the planet, I would disappoint you every single day because I would forget,” Ives said. “So the way we measure impact there, we’re looking at engagement numbers.”

This means they calculate each pledge, share, and selfie with 1.8 straws saved a day per person. The correction factor, however, is 10-90 percent for those will actually do it.

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