The Last Straw campaign has prompted more than 100 restaurants in Calgary to switch to a straw-on-request service since its launch on July 1st.
The Last Straw movement is an initiative that started in Toronto and has been adopted by Plastic-Free YYC, a non-profit organization whose goal is to cut the consumption of single-use plastic items.
It was their first time implementing a three-tier system which involves individuals, businesses, and government in one campaign.
“This is such an easy way for individuals to make a small change in their lives that have a huge impact even if they don’t see it first-hand,” said Briana Loughlin, co-founder of Plastic-Free YYC.
The group won the support of Coun. Druh Farrell in Calgary and Coun. Ben Henderson in Edmonton who helped promote the campaign in their events and through their social media.
Plastic-Free YYC also partnered with the Disability Action Hall to create a positive conversation about the straw-free movement. This collaborative effort guarantees that the campaign takes into account the needs and rights of the people with disabilities.
“They were very supportive and excited to be a part of the conversation,” said Loughlin.
The campaign initially posed a problem when the disability community voiced concern about restaurants banning straws.
“There seems to be a disconnect between protecting people and water,” said Colleen Huston, co-ordinator of the Disability Action Hall.
There are people in the community who struggle with basic needs and rely on plastic straws because it is convenient and affordable.
“I know it’s a green issue, but it’s low-hanging fruit. It affects people’s access to water,” said Huston.
“Shaming people is not the right way because it could be something that is totally invisible, and people don’t want to talk about it,” said Jennifer Stewart, one of the members of the Disability Action Hall.
The straw ban is a huge concern for the disability community because it also threatens their right to independence.
“There has to be a way that they can still keep disability-friendly straws because not everybody is going to take a straw with them,” said Stewart.
“And then if there are no straws available, what are they supposed to do?”
The price and the accessibility of the different plastic straw alternatives is also a concern for their members.
“[Silicone straws] are hard to find, and expensive,” said Huston.
The members are also concerned that alternatives such as metal straws are unsafe because they are not flexible and could damage teeth. Glass straws could break easily if they get too hot, and are considered a choking hazard.
Brodie Boychuk, who has been an active member of the Disability Action Hall for almost eight years, said that straws are easier to use, and people without disabilities wouldn’t be able to understand their struggles.
The Action Hall initiated its own campaign called Poverty Sucks which addresses the issue of the straw ban and how most disabled people can’t afford to buy reusable straws.
“We need to respect the straw, and it needs to be viewed as an important medical device as opposed to this item of convenience that we take advantage of,” said Loughlin.
“We do not discriminate. We are simply saying that for those who don’t need a straw, don’t use it.”
Loughlin made sure that participating restaurants have some straws on hand for people who need them.
“Some businesses choose to go straw-free and that is their prerogative,” she said.