Sinfreestraws aims for zero waste, one plastic-free straw at a time
We’ve long been supporters of the plastic-free movement here in Hong Kong, and to help commemorate Plastic-Free July, we sat down with Hong Kong entrepreneurs, Marc Tacchi and Tania Sibree, who decided to take their concern about the environment and turn it into something amazing. With the launch of the Hong Kong-based Sinfreestraws, they hope to replace all the single-use plastic straws that are hurting wildlife with bamboo ones, and we hope they succeed!
Tell us a little about yourselves and how you got the idea for Sinfreestraws.
I’m Marc, I’ve been living in Hong Kong since 2004. Though originally from Canada, I was already an expat when I arrived, having worked in Europe and the Middle East previously. Tania is a lawyer and originally from Melbourne, Australia, but lived overseas (London and HK) for most of her professional life. This is my second stint in Hong Kong and I am now raising my two children (ages 4 and 7 years old).
The idea of Sinfreestraws came from one of our children who was undertaking a school project that involved him looking at the environmental impact that single-use plastic was having on our oceans. He was livid upon discovering that there was a massive “plastic island” in the Pacific Ocean. Billions of plastic bags along with plastic straws are floating in massive swirls, where they are mistaken by sea life for food, eventually killing sea life. He wanted to know how we could look at ways to reduce the waste flooding into our precious seas.
As parents we wanted to help our children understand that they could affect change and that’s how Sinfreestraws came to be. So, we decided to self fund a project, importing 2,000 bamboo straws into Hong Kong with the aim of trying to reduce single use plastic straws in a number of restaurants and bars across the city.
We have since been door to door, cold calling on food and beverage venues. We’ve established a few supply chains, and are continuing to expand our efforts on a nonprofit level.
We both have day jobs and this is very much being done during any spare time we have, but we have been beyond overwhelmed with the positivity of people willing to embrace the concept.
The plastic-free revolution has finally hit Hong Kong, albeit slowly. What part are you playing?
There is a lot of work to be done within Hong Kong about changing consumer’s attitude towards single use plastic. There is, however, a growing number of people and organisations in Hong Kong trying to really change habits. Our goal was rather simple; rather than trying to tackle every single use plastic item, we decided to just focus on plastic straws. Our model is essentially to give free bamboo straws for a trial period to certain bars and restaurants around HK, in doing so we asked that the venue committed to providing us with feedback from its customers and staff on the product.
Sinfreestraws has been able to both draw attention to the issue and provide economical solutions to reducing single use plastics in Hong Kong.
What companies now use your straws? What’s your goal?
The uptake has been tremendous. Our partners now include Nord Anglia International School, Praya in Kennedy Town, XOCO, Rumin’Tings in SOHO, and Thaiwan bar in Wan Chai. Internationally, we’ve been able to change four businesses in Phnom Penh Cambodia, and we’ve just signed our first partner in Canada. A number of other bars are still trialling the straws and we hope that they will convert longer term to bamboo or other sustainable choices.
We would like to highlight a few people whose help really set fire to our project: Emma from Eclipse Group met with us in our early days and has been so enthusiastic and embraced the concept quickly. She placed a very large order to move Café Siam from single use plastics. Her order enabled us to lower our price point (straw price based on volume) and shift others on board. We are really grateful for her support.
Also, a big shout out to Samia Saidi, who manages Rummin’Tings. She has given us many leads and has been using the straws since the first week we started operating. The access she provided has really given us a lot more exposure
Why is bamboo better than metal or paper straws?
We would hesitate to say which is better. The obvious choice is no straws. All straws require material, labour and resources to make. Shifting from plastics to any less damaging material is a win. Unlike paper, bamboo straws can be washed and reused many times; as a plant, bamboo takes little time to harvest and doesn’t require much water to grow. Interestingly, we have been working with Jamie’s Italian. After considering our product, and alternatives, they’ve chosen to go straw free. That’s a real win for all of us.
How has the reception to your product been?
We seem to have come at the right time. Everyone is hyper aware that plastic straws can no longer be an option. Their use is simply too detrimental to the environment. Of the dozens of venues, we’ve approached only one has given us a hard “no”. Virtually any manager or owner is already thinking of [eliminating plastic straws], and are grateful to trial the bamboo. We have also had some interesting leads through our website from [other countries] as well as locally. The most interesting has been with a hospital group [which is] interested in the product!
What are your biggest obstacles so far?
Our time. Both of use work full time, have our own kids, and commitments. Being able to coordinate, campaign, meet, and establish a supply chain in our limited free time has been challenging, but fulfilling.
Often times we hear the bars don’t want to use bamboo because it doesn’t last. Do you feel that’s true?
Bamboo straws won’t last forever, commercially they can be used daily for several months (or longer) and they will then biodegrade. There are obvious additional resources needed to wash the straws, etc., but this is no different from washing cutlery or plates. They can be cleaned in a dishwasher or in soapy hot water.
Plastic does last longer; up to 500 years. After being used for less than five minutes, the choice seems fairly obvious to us.
Bamboo is an incredible resource. Have you thought about expanding your products? If so, how?
Yes! We have recently found a supplier for bamboo cutlery. We can now work towards changing the plastic disposable cutlery offered by take away venues. Another big area of concern we have is the use of styrofoam packaging that a lot of suppliers use when delivery goods. We are thinking of ways that these boxes can be changed for something more sustainable. More to come on this.
Where do you hope Hong Kong will be in five years?
We would hope that the Hong Kong government in the long term will ban all single use plastic as has been done in some European cities. We would also hope that better recycling facilities will be in place to deal with the plastic packaging (or for these to be banned as well).
What can consumers do to help?
It’s as simple as saying, “No straws, thanks,” when ordering a drink. If you really want to take stand, contact manufactures of products they enjoy and ask for the option to have environmentally friendly packaging. We also need better recycling plants in Hong Kong given China has restricted the ability to import waste to their landfills. Sign the petition seeking the HK government to increase the ability to recycle and compost plant plastics.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?
We don’t want to pontificate. We’re realistic in how long things take. If you think you can help, or you own a venue with plastic, we want to work with you. This problem wasn’t created overnight, and won’t be resolved overnight. Awareness is key and we are still very much learning about alternatives ourselves. Plastic has its place: IV drip bags in hospitals, components of a car or aircraft. Not straws.
Featured image courtesy of getty images, image #1 and #3 credited to Sinfreestraws, image #2 courtesy of getty images