Students spearhead anti-plastic movement in Cardiff

With Blue Planet II bringing plastic pollution to the fore, two Cardiff University students have begun to have their own environmental impact on Cardiff and its businesses.

Social media is an indispensable tool when it comes to getting your voice heard. Your message may be retweeted a couple of times and eventually strike a chord with someone. Someone possibly like Cerys Matthews, welsh singer and songwriter. That’s how the early doors panned out for the No Straw Stand movement anyway.

Nia and Doug of the No Straw Stand

Behind the movement is a double act, Nia Jones and Douglas Looms. Under no illusions of how difficult it would be to get their movement off the ground, the endorsement from the Welsh celebrity was clearly not lost on them. “I mean Twitter has been invaluable to us”, Nia begins.

Doug picks up and echoes the sentiments. “To get someone like Cerys retweeting our posts, I think it was a big confidence boost. We sent it out thinking a few people would see it, but we didn’t expect that response. She’s obviously very famous in Wales you know.”

“The good thing is if people go to places that are sustainable its trendy. People will post on Twitter and Instagram. People like independent coffee shops and bars, especially in a city like Cardiff that has so many.”

Penylan Pantry has taken the stand against plastic straws

Fitting the movement around their studies, Nia and Douglas clearly understand where they want to take the No Straw Stand. They have outlined their parameters and knuckled down, drawing upon educational studies to get this thing going. Sitting in one of the café’s to have taken the pledge, Nia explains, “I think that’s the good thing about university. It encourages you to set up your own projects and think outside the box. We just thought what is something we can do that isn’t too big. We are two students. We can’t be like ‘stop climate change’, ‘stop carbon pollution’, ‘stop using cars’. All those things are far too big for a movement like ours.” These two have their sights much more defined – to get businesses in Cardiff to stop using single-use plastic straws.

Long-term, the goal is clear – to make themselves obsolete. “I have volunteered with different NGO’s before and they’ve had good messages because in the end you don’t want to be needed anymore. You want to be able to walk away. I mean Seattle has just banned plastic straws. Something like that would be the end goal,” Nia explains. There is hope it has an expiry date.

Non-biodegradable marine litter ©Bo Elde/Flickr

Yet getting a city of businesses to stop using single-use plastic straws is not without its challenges, surprisingly. “We’ve had to navigate some situations where people will say ‘what about people with disabilities,” Doug explains. “You’ve got to really think about how you’re going to reply to it because, obviously, you’ve got to stick to your stand ‘No Plastic Straws’, but you’ve also got to introduce alternative methods.” Overcoming such challenges requires an astute understanding of attitudes towards the use of single-use plastics and the situation at large, something both display as they talk about the topic whilst sipping at a cup of coffee.

Nevertheless, there remains other challenges that will demand more from the No Straw Stand. Cardiff’s bustling nightclub and bar scene present one. “Often, bars will put a straw in drinks design purposes. We’ve tried contacting a few, and others haven’t got back to us. I think it’s a big thing the amount of straw’s they use in a night. Maybe the plastic tax might help that.”

The possible introduction of a plastic tax also provides reason for positivity with the duo citing it as a momentum builder for their movement. They want the topic to be discussed and people to have a better understanding of it. They believe its introduction could herald a new time where we think not about using plastic straws, but about opting out of using plastic straws. There is room for a new ‘norm’. Discussing their positive outlook, Nia says, “At the moment biodegradable straws aren’t that much more expensive and with the plastic tax it would hopefully be a cheaper option.” Both are keen to stress that are viable alternatives to use – glass straws, metal straws, biodegradable straws.

Having fully immersed themselves in the message of the movement and gained an understanding of the topic, the pair reflect on the changes they have made to their day to day life, something many would struggle with due to an entrenchment of attitudes. “I do definitely choose lunch now if it has cardboard packaging instead of plastic. Or I’ll go I certain places because I know it does a paper bag,” Nia says. And their decision making has clearly had an influence on those around them too, from flatmates washing and re-using plastic straws at home to friends not taking single-use plastic cup lids in Subway.

They now find themselves as the spearhead of a campaign, but also part of a larger movement. There is a desire to connect with others that share the same message, other groups that are attempting to get businesses to stop using single-use plastic straws. Amongst these of course are the wonderfully named ‘Straw Wars’ and ‘No Straws Attached’. Connecting different movements in the UK would make it easier to get funding for national campaigns and also give it ‘one central thing with different local faces’. Upon considering the potential for a collective effort, Nia takes a short pause before confidently stating, “Yeah that would be awesome we are all working towards the same goal”