The Last Straw Team – Ireland

The Last Straw

Did you know that over 500 million straws are used in the United States alone every day?
Drinking straws are a huge problem in our environment. In 2015 a video went viral showing the removal of a straw from a sea turtles nose and this distressed turtle touched a lot of people, including many of us in our group. As a result we decided to focus on straws, in the hopes that we could design a product that would reduce the amount making their way into the world’s oceans.

Steps are now being taken to reduce the amount of straws in use worldwide, most notably in the introduction of Straw bans and “Straws-by-request-only” policies in the UK and areas of California. Despite this the complete removal of plastic straws from the environment is a long way off. They are still offered in many venues worldwide, from restaurants to juice bars, cafes, cinemas, bars, sports grounds and many more. And with a new straw being used in every new drink, the waste generated daily is truly colossal.

Most plastic packaging is used only once; 95% of the value of plastic packaging material, worth $80-120 billion per year, is lost. Additionally, plastic packaging generates other negative consequences, valued conservatively by the UN Environment Programme at $40 billion. At current rates, by 2050 oceans are expected to contain more plastics than fish (by weight), and the entire plastics industry will consume 20% of total oil production, and 15% of the annual carbon budget.

Straws themselves are recyclable, although due to their form, they can be difficult to treat correctly. Many places do not have correct facilities to recycle them. Where such facilities do exist, their lightness and small size means that in sorting they do not often make it into the correct disposal lines. Furthermore, they can be blown away easily if they are outside, meaning they often end up in landfill or as litter.

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So we made a plan to gather and use them.
To gather straws our group proposed collection bins placed at restaurants, cinemas, bars and at recycling centres, from which they would pick them up on a regular basis. Our group began our design process by playing around with straws, testing their durability, flexibility, touch, and many other properties. We combined them in multiples, folded them around one another, twisted them together and melted them to see what sort of interesting material insights we could tease out. One interesting property that we observed was the straws ability to let light pass through. Their translucence created a pleasant glow on the straws themselves.

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