The Last Straw for Single Use Plastics in Australia
16 July 2018 at 8:45 am
Eva Mackinley is the founder and CEO of The Last Straw, a campaign to reduce the use of the plastic straws in venues around Australia. She is this week’s Changemaker.
Mackinley has been involved in social activism since the age of 15, and in 2010 was selected as one of 14 young people to sit on the federal government’s Australian Youth Forum Steering Committee.
In 2015 she founded The Last Straw, a campaign to reduce the use of the plastic straws in Australian venues by encouraging consumers to use less plastic straws and urging businesses to hand out less straws through staff training and information.
Since the initiative began, more than 100 Australian venues have changed their straw use, while about 20 million plastic straws have been saved from entering the waste system.
Mackinley – who is also a board member for Start Up Tasmania and Awesome Foundation Melbourne – juggles running the campaign with full-time work and study.
In this week’s Changemaker, Mackinley discusses why she created The Last Straw, the importance of not-for-profit grants and her long-term goals for the campaign.
What sparked your interest in social activism?
I first became involved in community-focused stuff at 15. I spent my summer volunteering for a little organisation in Tasmania called the Festival of Dreams. And that was about empowering young people to create projects for positive change in their own communities. My love for social engagement started there and since then I’ve worked on a variety of different projects across different issue areas, such as development and fundraising and digital campaigns.
What led to the creation of The Last Straw?
I worked in hospitality for a long time and I had a bit of an “a-ha” moment with plastic straws when I was actually throwing a whole lot of them into the bin. I did some research and learnt some statistics about how many straws were being used and I decided to do something to help shift the hospitality industry away from plastic straw use.
The Last Straw was the winner of the 2017 Canon Grants Program, winning $5,000 worth of Canon equipment. How important are grants like this when it comes to enabling not for profits to achieve more for their cause?
Non-profits involve people doing good things for the good of what they’re doing, not to get anything out of it. So anything that exists to support that is so helpful. In terms of this Canon grant, Last Straw focuses so much on our online community and developing video content, so being able to have our own equipment as opposed to having to rent it has just been absolutely amazing for us.
Support to eliminate the use of plastic straws seems to be growing in recent times. Do you think that things are trending in the right direction?
It definitely feels like that. It’s funny that this little issue that no one was really talking about a few years ago has suddenly become the “big thing” when it comes to plastic waste. Some people view it as an inconsequential thing, but it’s actually been a real entry level discussion for people to start thinking about plastics in other areas of their life and things they can do to reduce their consumption. So there’s been a lot of momentum around and while most of us were brought up with this disposable convenience mindset, that is definitely starting to change. Not only are we seeing a lot of businesses getting on board with stopping their use of plastic straws, we’re also seeing a lot of individuals bringing their own straws, or their own coffee cups or their own cutlery out to places so it has definitely sparked a lot of change.
What is the long-term goal for the campaign in the next five to ten years?
We’ve seen a bit of a critical mass at the moment with individual venues, in that most venues these days have become straw conscious. I think the big thing I’d like to see change in the next five years is the franchises. I know McDonalds has come on board in the UK getting rid of their plastic straws which is a bold move but it doesn’t solve the problem of [their cups] still being a three piece disposable plastic item.
It almost feels like they’re taking action on straws to appease a bit of pressure against them. And at the end of the day it’s more of a design issue when it comes to cups… so it becomes a question of how can that be redesigned to be better for the environment.
What are some of the main duties you complete as CEO of The Last Straw?
It’s a lot to do with external communication. We have a whole lot of people getting in touch over the website inquiring to join as a member venue or asking what they can do in their community. So a lot of time is spent answering those messages and sending out venue packs to venues and ambassador packs to people. There’s also a lot of social media management, so engaging the community, developing content and posting etc.
There’s quite a few partnership meetings at the moment. We’ve got a couple of big chains in the realm of hotels and take away that are looking to come on board. So it’s about meeting with them and working that out. And also a little bit of time at the moment is spent on developing packs for international groups. We’ve recently had interest from a group in Peru and one in Indonesia and we’re looking at another one in the Solomon Islands. It’s just about trying to translate everything between that representative and myself into our branding.
What do you like to do in your spare time away from work?
I’m doing my honours year at university so I’m very boring. That’s what I do for fun at the moment.