Refuse, Reuse, Recycle. So – the ‘Refuse’ part. Refusing is the easiest of the three, surely. No need to spend money, no need for creativity or innovation, no need to find recycling bins or facilities. Just – refuse. Refuse those disposable straws, spoons, forks, plates, boxes. Easy, except, it’s not as though you are asked for consent every time you receive one of those items.

Where Canada makes up for the lack of segregation and recycling culture in Australia, it drops the ball on plastic straws. Even in smaller country towns, there is indiscriminate use of straws. So ‘Refuse’ really boils down to getting to the people before they commit the deed.

A week ago, my sister and I had a lovely gelato at a parlour. Us being overenthusiastic consumers, we asked to try some flavours and as a result, ended up with a couple of plastic “trying sticks” (rookie mistake). Then my chosen flavours were popped into a cup in one fell swoop. This was after a rather delightful, Thai dinner and in my food coma, I left out my Refuse instruction. But then I did remember, and almost at the exact moment when the very nice server picked up a plastic spoon, I delivered. So of course, she retracted the spoon and it went straight into the BIN! My gasp was audible.

Last week, I went travelling with my family on a short trip, super duper determined not to create any waste. I had my essential “kit” packed in my handbag (more on this later!). We were headed to the town set to become the largest metropolitan city to ban single-use plastic straws in 2018, Seattle. Seattle is going to stop sucking thanks to a collaboration between businesses, activists and policy-makers, with backing from Adrian Grenier’s Lonely Whale Foundation. So of course, I had high expectations. And I was not disappointed. We ate out multiple times a day for a few days and none of us received plastic straws in our drinks, a deplorable practice I have become accustomed to in Canada. Unfortunately, this is more than I can say for the hotel we stayed at, plastic cutlery and Styrofoam galore in the dining areas. Of course, I complained. Another noticeable difference was the number of places that offered cloth napkins instead of serviettes, yay! This is large cafes and restaurants, but then there are those in-between places like hotels where it will take something revolutionary to bring about a change.

So this is the gyaan (wisdom) I’ve collected along the way.

  1. Sometimes, making smaller changes is easier than biting off large chunks. Starting to refuse disposable plastic is an easy one that doesn’t necessarily require any investment. You are sure to find some plastic cutlery lying around your home that you can put into your handbag and house there (permanently!). Or indulge in the disposable one last time and then instead of throwing it, bring it home, wash it and put in handbag for above mentioned forever keeping.
  2. Make a script in your head. We have become used to repeating “no straws, cutlery or serviettes please” like broken records when we eat out. Of course, we forget, and that’s okay, but it gets easier the more you do it.
  3. Refusing is easier in theory, particularly in places like food courts and takeaway joints, but it is all about anticipating disposables in those sneaky places. Ice-cream parlours are one such, as evidenced above. If you can go without tasters, do. I know I will next time. Beverages like bubble teas come sealed with a plastic over the top, which is NOT recyclable, even if the cup is. Many cafes will give stirrers such as the one pictured above. Next time you come across a wooden stirrer, wipe it clean, keep it, and make it part of your kit so you don’t have to rely on these.
  4. Be prepared with alternatives so you don’t get caught out. Having to finger lick a cup of ice-cream or eat laksa with your hands is not everybody’s cup of tea. What I find easiest is housing a simple assortment of things in my handbag for this purpose, my little “kit”. More on this in the next post!


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