• Sarah Hawkins

It's just a bit of Litter...!

I don't know about you, but I was brought up to respect our oceans. I was fortunate enough to grow up next to one of the most beautiful coastlines in the UK, Cornwall.

I was a beach bum throughout the whole of my childhood and teenage years, I spent such much of my time on the beach from dawn til dusk. Even it was raining I would still go down to the beach, put on my wetsuit and paddle out on my board and ride the waves.

One thing that used to make me angry as a child (and still does today) was seeing people visit our beautiful beaches, bring picnics with them, enjoy themselves and as they leave just dump their rubbish on the floor or even worse bury it in the sand. I would look at them in disgust wait for them to be a certain distance away, and then pick up or dig up their rubbish and throw it away in the bin.

Now I know many people see Seagulls as a nuisance and yes, they can be little monkeys but that is down to us. As a local I would never feed the seagulls as naturally they should be hunting for their food - catching their own fish. However, over many many years holiday makers thought it was fun to throw food up in their air for the gulls to swoop down and catch the food which now has turned to gulls swooping down and pinching your ice cream or pasty out of your hand. Anyway, I saw too often the impact of people leaving their rubbish on the beach and rescuing a number of gulls that had got caught up in plastic bags, or their heads tangled between the plastic used on 6 packs of beer or soda cans.

Fortunately, there was somewhere that I was able to take these injured gulls. In Mousehole there is a bird hospital which has been running since 1928. I cannot remember the number of injured birds that this wonderful place had taken in just from my family over the years, but it was a lot. Not just injured from people irresponsibly littering but injured from fishing nets, fishing hooks and oil.

I was always spotting injured wildlife as a child and getting my dad to carefully capture the birds, so that, we could get them to the hospital. My poor dad had his hands pecked at more times than he would like to remember.

The Mousehole Wild Bird Hospital has been running since 1928. The hospital accepts both land and sea birds in need of care, to heal and return them to the wild. If this is not possible, they are taken into captivity and given sanctuary for the remainder of their lives. They take in circa 1,000 birds annually and have 70 - 80 permanent residents. They are open 365 days a year just as their founders had run the hospital - Pog and Dorothy. The two sisters founded the hospital when their younger sister found an injured jackdaw in her garden. In 1967, the hospital was a hub of activity and helped over 8,000 oiled sea birds that had been affected by the Torrey Cannon disaster. The Torrey Cannon left Kuwait with its cargo of crude oil heading to its destination of Milford Haven in Wales, but an error caused it strike Pollards Rock on Sevens Stones reef. It is still one of the largest oil spills to have occurred. Even as a child in the late 80s and early 90s you could still see the impact of that oil spill on the beaches of Marazion - Newlyn especially when you dug down in the sand.

Some things are out of hands, but there are some things that we can do to protect our oceans just as simple as undertaking the 3 R's - reduce, reuse and recycle. Approximately over 80% of marine pollution comes from land based sources1.

It is estimated that by 2050, the weight of plastic in the oceans will outweigh the weight of all fish - that is horrific2.

There are so many things that we can do to reduce the amount of plastic that we use on a daily basis and it can be as simple as a change as no longer using a plastic straw. I'm sure you have all seen the video of a microbiologist working off the coast of Costa Rica who was working with Sea Turtles and one had something stuck in its nose which at first they thought was some sort of worm, they just a piece of to examine it and it was part of a plastic straw. The video is heartbreaking but if you haven't seen it and wish click here.

I caught up with Mel of Bamboo Straw Girl to discuss her vision for Bamboo Straw Girl and her thoughts on marine pollution.

What is your vision for Bamboo Straw Girl?

We want to start meaningful conversations through mindfully made products. We started with the bamboo straw, which was definitely a conversation starter especially when reusable straws were not as common as today. The fact that the bamboo straw is 100% natural, and each has very tiny differences, and fully handmade, is another wonderful thing. It makes people consider more than just the product -- you start to consider the whole production and life cycle, who the makers are, and why people choose to use certain products at all! We hope that through our products, people start to think broader about environmental issues, and the importance of individual actions and change of mindsets that may lead to wider change.

Why is marine plastic such an important issue?

Water is life. The topic of reusable straws is often discussed alongside marine plastic because of a video that went viral some years back of a turtle with a straw lodged in its nose. The smaller the plastic item is, the worse damage it can cause. Irresponsibly discarded trash that find their way into the water will break down and cause lasting damage to nature and wildlife. The longer a piece of trash floats about, the smaller it breaks down - into tinier and deadlier pieces (microplastics).

How can people make a positive difference?

It's as simple as having a new mindset towards consumption. I’m sure you’ve heard of the 3 R’s, but here are my 3 R’s:

Three guiding ideas that I try my best to live by now :

Refuse -- Do I really need it or can I make do without it? 

Reduce -- If I must have it, how much of it do I need?

Rethink -- Think, and think again, about whether your choices are the best ones.   It’s about being conscious of our choices and actions.

What is so unique with bamboo straws? - 100% handmade and reusable for YEARS - every piece is unique and has its own grain - our straws are fair trade (we are a social enterprise) - can be returned to the earth and leave no trace - we prefer them to stainless steel as they require much less resources to make and we can trace materials and production right back to the very grove the bamboo was grown in Our hot favourite reusable straws are handmade from whole bamboo stalks. Nothing recompressed, no additional materials. The bamboo straws that we produce are the ultimate natural straw! A smooth finish on interior and exterior surfaces makes these straws easy to clean and very long-lasting. Our straws are made to be reused.  We have been pioneers in bamboo straw production since 2013. The straws we make are of high quality and reusable hundreds of times. Production is labour-intensive. Every single straw is made by hand. We never use chemicals, fungicides or any additives and our production process is low-impact and low-to-zero-waste from start to end. Know your makers -- it makes all the difference. Our bamboo sources are sustainable -- a mix of homegrown bamboo groves and wild bamboo. We never compromise on quality. Your straws are made to last.

What are some misconceptions about your products you've had to address? 

My intention with launching bamboo straws as a product was to spark conversations and get people thinking about more than just straws. I think the first barrier locally was to show people that environmental issues are worth thinking about and encourage them to take action in their daily lives. By using the bamboo straw as a conversation point, we can get people talking about so much more. It makes it easier to open conversations.  People have asked me - why straws? It's just one small thing! But everyone's "little" pieces of "insignificant" trash add up. People have the impression that reusing straws is unhygienic - but don't we reuse our cutlery? When I talk to cafes and restaurants, my approach is not to say "switch all your straws to bamboo reusable straws", but to say "how about not providing any straws by default, and only if the customer requests it, give them the choice of a reusable straw". For people concerned about hygiene, we have small cleaning brushes and bamboo straws can be boiled. They can also be used for hot or cold beverages - you won't burn your tongue.

You can find more information about Bamboo Straw girl here


1 https://www.azocleantech.com/article.aspx?ArticleID=729

2 http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_The_New_Plastics_Economy.pdf

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