I’ve read press releases from hotels saying that they have eliminated (or are planning to eliminate) plastic straws, and/or have started using biodegradable ones, as part of their green initiative. That’s good news. :)
I’ve been trying to minimise my iced coffee and bubble tea intake, so I don’t see myself buying a reusable straw anytime soon. But if and when I do, I already know where to get them. That is, if I manage to – they’re always sold out.
Here’s the story of Samantha Thian and Singapore-based brand Seastainable Co. :)
If there’s one piece of information that staggers Samantha Thian about plastic consumption and marine conservation, it’s this: “The Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” she declares.
And here’s another one: “The recent study by the Singapore Environment Council that highlights how Singaporeans use enough plastic to make three Sentosa islands.”
Staggering, indeed. It’s just one of the many reasons why Sam started Seastainable Co. – an online business that sells metal, black chrome, iridescent and other seasonal coloured straws (like rose gold), and straw cleaners, for drinks… even bubble tea.
She’s been involved in marine conservation projects in Singapore and the Philippines since she was at university (she graduated from NUS with a business degree), and 50 per cent of Seastainable’s profits goes to marine conservation efforts and organisations in ASEAN countries.
How it all began
“During my time with LAMAVE at Oslob in the Philippines, I witnessed the tremendous negative impact poor trash management has had on the environment,” recounts the 24-year-old. (LAMAVE stands for Large Marine Vertebrates Research Institute Philippines, an independent organisation that studies and promotes marine conservation in the country.)
“I swam through large patches of garbage during data collection, and as I thought about how this has affected helpless animals living in these once-pristine waters, my heart broke. This spurred me to do my part in tackling the issue of waste management.”
Even back in Singapore, Sam couldn’t get the images out of her head. “Afterwards, while serving as the president of NUS’s recreational dive club, I made it a point to focus on educating participants about human impact on the environment – particularly trash generation and waste management. However, I felt that I could do more.”
So she plowed on. “It was at YSEALI SEA Camp, where I met a bunch of inspiring, like-minded people who cared about the environment, that made me think harder about how I could make a bigger impact on the community I live in,” she continues. (To know more about this past youth programme, click here, here and here.)
“I took this hunger and curiosity with me to my next internship with Procter & Gamble, where I had the chance to suggest the removal of plastic straws for a corporate event. It was at this moment that the idea for Seastainable hit me.
“I realised that the habit of using single-use products was difficult to break because it was a part of our lifestyle. If we could get people to start making the conscious decision to change their lifestyle to be greener – to use more environmentally friendly alternatives to single-use products – then this transition can come more naturally and easily,” she observes.
“Plastic straws are, more often than not, unnecessary. These are easy to give up and replace, and that’s how I conceptualised Seastainable. It is to give people an easy first step into living a life that is healthier for our planet.”
Eleven months on…
Sam launched Seastainable in January of this year, and it’s been a thrilling ride.
“I remember starting Seastainable out of my own kitchen with only S$800 in my pocket,” she states. “The thing I remember the most is that feeling of uncertainty about whether Seastainable could really make a positive impact on society or not.”
Judging from the results – she’s often sold out – and the feedback, we can say that the hard work is starting pay off.
“The most amazing part is being able to witness first-hand the positive transformation taking place amongst our youth. We’ve received a lot of insightful questions about sustainability, as well as seen deep discussions between our youths about what sustainability means,” she relates.
… and beyond
“Now, we are focused on creating more awareness and pushing out positive encouragement to fellow Singaporeans hoping to live a more sustainable lifestyle,” Sam asserts.
“We’re also focusing on the Seastainable Project Grant,” she adds. “We hope to get more applicants so that we can support more sustainability initiatives in ASEAN countries.”
Through the grant, groups will receive financial aid to successfully carry out programmes designed to help implement marine conservation and benefit the local community.
Although Sam and Seastainable have come so far (their seven-month report is proof), she knows there’s still room for growth, and much to figure out. But it all looks pretty good.
“Seastainable has definitely pushed me to think deeper about how I can contribute more to sustainability in the region,” she admits. “I’ve gained a better understanding on sustainability overall, and it has only inspired me to put in even more effort to work towards a more sustainable future for countries across ASEAN.”
Inspired by Sam? Before you make that purchase…
Stop right there. In case you didn’t notice, there’s a line on the Seastainable site that says, “Please do not buy a metal straw if you do not need one!”
“We don’t believe in mindless consumerism,” Sam stresses. “Every item you purchase, even if it is meant to be more sustainable, comes with an environmental cost. Therefore, if anyone buys our items, we hope that the person will reuse the items as much as possible, so that the gains from using one reusable item (over using many disposable ones) eventually outweigh the costs of the reusable item’s manufacturing process.”
Which is why I haven’t bought one yet. Maybe you should think about it first too, especially if you don’t consume a lot of beverages that need straws. :) But now you know where to go if you do.