By: Hannah Margaret
Greenpeace Halifax volunteer
This spring, the Greenpeace Halifax Local Group was seeking a new project to tackle after a year focused on sustainable forestry. Our chosen issue that was one that is close to the heart of many of the residents of our coastal city, and one which has recently garnered significant attention worldwide: marine plastic pollution.
Marine plastic pollution is without a doubt one of the greatest threats facing our oceans today. The answer is clear - we need to stop consuming single-use plastic products. This solution seems simple, but it is also incredibly challenging to implement; the proliferation of excessive plastic packaging and single-use plastic products means that it is almost impossible to buy groceries or eat a meal without using unnecessary plastic. As a small group of volunteers, we were unsure where to start our efforts to tackle the proliferation of single-use plastics.
We were inspired by the efforts of a group of Halifax restaurants and bars who had stopped offering straws with beverages the year prior. Straws are particularly problematic because they are usually too small to enter the recycling stream, meaning that they often go directly to landfills. Also, straws are arguably not necessary for most people to enjoy a beverage, and fall into the category of single-use plastics that are only used for a matter of minutes before disposal. The restaurants in Halifax that had stopped offering straws reported positive customer feedback and reduced cost since they no longer had to purchase straws.
Following this example, we decided to ask local bars and restaurants to pledge to not offer straws during Halifax Oceans Week, which is a week of community group-hosted events celebrating the oceans and marine environmental protection that falls around World Oceans Day. Our hope was that in asking for this temporary commitment, restaurants, and bars would be inspired to think more about their total plastic footprint.
We only had a short time to make the most of the opportunity to participate in Oceans Week. We spent an evening sending out emails to every bar and restaurant in Halifax that had valid email addresses available online asking them to take the pledge to not offer plastic straws for Oceans Week. In exchange, we offered to make posters advertising their commitment to display in their front doors and to post around Halifax.
The response was overwhelming. We started receiving positive responses almost immediately. Within a couple of days, we had 22 local businesses participating at 25 locations around Halifax. We were so impressed by the enthusiasm shown by local businesses. They were genuinely excited to collaborate with us, and most went above and beyond in ensuring that they had paper straws on hand to be totally plastic-free in case of a customer who needed a straw.
This campaign was amazing because it was so mutually beneficial. We got to carry out a successful project while promoting local businesses making eco-friendly choices. We forged connections within our community while also gaining lots of valuable information. We are so excited to put what we learned during this project into action as we continue to combat plastic pollution.
One of the first takeaways from this campaign was the value of capitalizing on local events. Asking the businesses to commit for one just week allowed them to try going straw-free before making a long-term commitment. Some of the businesses we worked with were already straw-free but others weren’t; in our follow-up for feedback, several of the businesses who weren’t straw-free beforehand were considering making the change permanent.
We also learned that sourcing paper straws in Halifax can be difficult. We don’t have any local suppliers that are a practical source for businesses to rely on. Bulk suppliers aren’t always practical for smaller businesses that don’t use many straws. Several of the businesses mentioned that they would like to get together with other businesses to split bulk orders and make paper straws more affordable to source. Because of our work on this campaign, we will be able to facilitate those connections.
Overall, this campaign was a great success for our Greenpeace group. With a little teamwork and an enthusiastic and supportive community, we were able to pull the project together. One week of Halifax businesses going straw-free is a small step in perspective with the immensity of the plastic pollution problem. But for us, it was an inspiring start to our new project. We are so excited to continue to work with our community to support efforts to reduce plastic consumption and help protect our oceans.