In recent times, it was announced that plastic straws will be banned
in all the Federal Territories of Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya and Labuan beginning 1 Jan next year.
However, even before the announcement saw the limelight, a good number of people and famous restaurants around the country have put a full stop to the usage of plastic straws.
For example, McDonald's Malaysia introduced a 'Say No To Straws' campaign on 1 Aug, where they stopped giving out plastic straws to their customers unless they ask for one.
The move was applauded by many and soon, several other restaurants followed suit.
For the uninformed or curious lot, you may be wondering why suddenly plastic straws, which have always been your best companion to suck out that frothy Milo Ais or your favourite creamy milkshake, are now deemed ‘evil’.
We spoke to environment and waste management specialist Dr Theng Lee Chong to learn more about this intriguing subject.
The bad reputation of plastic straws
It is said that one plastic straw can take up to 200 years to decompose.
Yes, you heard us right; the humble plastic straws could outlive humans and apparently that is bad news especially where the environment is concerned. But why so?
“Truth be told, plastic straws can actually be recycled. However, the challenge of recycling straws is it is too small to be properly segregated for the purpose. Because of its size, straws can easily be thrown into drains, which eventually flushed out into the sea, causing pollution and hazards.
“Most discarded straws also may end up in the landfills in the country and as we know, plastics will never degrade for hundreds of years,” said Dr Theng, who estimates that an average Malaysian uses one straw a day.
Dr Theng believes that plastic straws can actually be avoided if we put our minds to it.
“I think people can avoid the usage of plastic straw, unless really necessary like for the use of some disabled people or for other medical reasons.
“Think about it. If we can drink a glass of beer or hot coffee straight from the glass or cup, why do we need to use a straw? The straw will become a waste within minutes or seconds after usage. Do we really need it?
“This actually applies to all kind of disposable products, not only plastic straws alone. The key is to avoid using them whenever possible,” he said.
Despite saying that, Dr Theng believes that to change this habit of using plastic straws, our own awareness plays a key role.
“Human attitude is the main factor. We have to know our own problem rather than putting blame on everything. We are the culprits who never segregated waste properly for recycling, we are the culprits who carry out illegal dumping or littering.
“Change starts from ourselves,” he said.
Dr Theng stressed that Japan is a good country to look up to when it comes to environmental issues like this.
“In Japan, plastic products are still used, but they have a proper waste management system to make sure waste is effectively managed.
"If we have an effective end solution for waste disposal, there will be no need to worry about plastic waste reaching waste disposal facility?”.
Metal straws to the rescue
If plastic straws have been getting bad press, on the contrary, metal straws or reusable stainless steel straws have been basking in the good limelight.
Due to the public’s awareness about the adverse effect of plastic straws, more and more people are swearing by metal straws, especially in recent times.
The fact that they are durable and can be reused over and over again, makes them a better choice for the environment in comparison to single-use plastic straws.
Even celebrities are jumping on the bandwagon of using the trendy looking metal straws and its all over Instagram as well.
Closer to home, metal straws are easily buyable through various online platforms like Lazada Malaysia.
One such store is Metal Straws My
, which exclusively sells metal straws and other stainless steel products on its Instagram page.
The metal straws come in various hues such as gold, silver, rose gold, black and yes, even rainbow colours. They even come with a thin cleaning brush to keep everything hygienic.
Oh, if we haven't mentioned it already, the founder of Metal Straws My is an 18-year-old student-turned-entrepreneur Sofea Riana.
Sofea said the idea to sell metal straws was materialised because she was aware about the amount of plastic wastage in the world and she wanted to play a role, however small, to make a difference.
“I started this small but promising business to create awareness about plastic usage as well as to give Malaysian easy access to metal straws.
“The response has been nothing short of exciting and great, especially when I first started. I am happy that I am helping Malaysians to change their lifestyle to protect the environment,” she said.
Changing for the better
On the other side of the spectrum, Malaysians are slowly but surely buying into the metal straw movement too.
Mother of one, Dania Zainuddin, decided to put a stop to the usage of plastic straws after watching the heartbreaking viral video of a turtle with a plastic straw stuck up its bleeding nose.
“I just don’t want to see another turtle suffering with straw stuck in their nose. So, I am trying my best to not use a plastic straw and sip from a metal one instead.
“Honestly, it’s not easy. It’s like cultivating a new habit. I am trying my best. You have to start somewhere you know!
“Every time I reject a plastic straw, I just think to myself that at least there’s one less strown doing down to the river or ocean," she said.
Dania said she bought her metal straw in a shop in Bangsar a couple of months back and have introduced the habit to her son.
Likewise, Instagram page Best Food KL
founder Syafique Shuib, who frequents restaurants and cafes in his venture to find delectable food, said he opted to drink with a metal straw after being concerned about the damage that plastic straws are doing to the environment.
“The escalating number of plastic straws that end up in the ocean made me think twice about using them. Also, most of my friends have also switched to using metal straws and I told myself, why don’t I do the same?”.
Syafique lamented that while he does not consider himself as an environmental activist, he knows that he has to start somewhere and change his habit.
"I realise that I could switch from using plastic straws to suing metal straws easily. Now, if everyone could do the same, we could make a huge difference,” he added.