YRE Article 19–25 years old: 2nd Place

FIRST STRAW FREE CITY IN SLOVAKIA ON THE HORIZON (Slovakia)

The average Slovak produces about 40 kg of plastic waste per year. Much of it is made up of disposable items, such as straws. Thanks to a citizens’ initiative in Spišská Nová Ves, each participating café can save up to 40,000 straws a year.

Plastic straws are often served with any drink, mostly just for visual effect. A popular café in the city uses more than 3,000 a month. This is not negligible, especially if there are several such businesses in a city. The problem is that the decomposition of a disposable straw may take from 200 to 450 years, depending on conditions.

Student Initiative

It was a group of ambitious and environmentally-minded grammar school students who came up with the idea to make Spišská Nová Ves the first straw-free town in Slovakia. The project is being carried out under the auspices of the NGO Nespi-Spiš. “Our goal is to eliminate the consumption of disposable plastic straws in businesses and to offer operators a greener alternative,” said Alexandra Geletová, a student of the grammar school on Školská Street in Spišská Nová Ves. This project requires a lot of work and preparation before implementation. “We are now in the stage of reaching out to business owners and trying to figure out how many straws or disposable cups they use. We want to work with the businesses to develop specific offers,” said Ema Gromovská, a member of the project implementation team. They suggest cafés offer metal, bamboo, paper, or compostable straws from bioplastics.

New Legislation Will Prohibit Disposable Straws

The European Parliament passed a law in October 2018 banning the use of single use disposable plastics, which will come into force in 2021. The law aims to counter the enormous pollution of seas, fresh water and soil, and addresses ten groups of disposable plastic products. The most significant impact will be on plastic dishes, cutlery, straws and ear buds.

Slovakia supported the proposal of the European Parliament. Although the law will come into effect in 2021, the Ministry of Environment has long been preparing and implementing measures against the production of plastic waste. Tomáš Ferenčák from the Ministry: “We have already put a fee on light plastic bags. At the same time, as part of the call for a Slovakia without plastic bags, several chains went beyond the law and decided to withdraw stocking lightweight plastic bags completely. The Waste Prevention Program, passed by the government this year, contains several ambitious goals. It includes tailor-made measures to combat plastic.” The Ministry will ban disposable plastic dishes, cutlery and straws at public events by the end of 2022.

Personal Dissatisfaction Triggers Change

The owners of some cafés and businesses in Spisska Nova Ves decided to eliminate disposable plastics on their own initiative. An example is the Mlynček Café, which does not use straws at all, from the very beginning. “Any drink we offer can be drunk without a straw. In the case of lemonades served in pitchers in the summer, we provide long spoons with which to pick out fruit. Glass, bamboo and metal straws are completely unnecessary solutions,” said Lukáš Rabatín, the owner of the café. Sometimes it happens, especially in the summer, that the customers demand a straw, especially for their children. “We have, however, very conscientious customers who, accept our philosophy, and then explain it to their children. We feel good that we are raising two generations.” he adds.

The second example is New Chicago, where plastic straws were used until recently. It was a personal dissatisfaction with the amount of waste produced daily that prompted the owner to change. “I wanted to reduce waste, and although straws are only a small first step, it was probably the easiest thing for us to start with,” said Ľuboš Husár, the owner of the business, in describing his motives. Greener alternatives to straws have been in use since last summer, and the metal ones have proven to be the best. Customers have provided only positive feedback. “It has had a positive effect. People take pictures and share them, so it is also a form of marketing, ”said Ľuboš Husár.

Even though change can be financially burdensome, this solution is sustainable. According to Lubos Husar, “the transition to more environmentally friendly alternatives was expensive, but overall the economic cost is lower, as there is no need to buy straws so often.”

A Good Example Motivates Others

Consumer awareness and taking precautions is also an important part of the process. If there is a demand from customers, then owners of the operations will have to think about change. “I personally, as well as my family, have for a long time been very careful not to get straws with our drinks. We warn waiters in advance, wherever we are, to bring us drinks without straws,” said Lukáš Rabatín, the owner and founder of the Mlynček Café.

Despite the positive examples, there are still many businesses where the use of disposable plastics is the order of the day. However, the operations that have already made the change are models for the others, like AMC Your Coffeeshop. “Our goal this year is to reduce the use of plastics in our business. We plan to exchange plastic cups for glass if the customer has coffee in our coffee shop. Also, soon you will only find EKOstraws made of REPA at AMC. It is non-toxic and 100% biodegradable, as it is made from ground mussels,” says Antónia Zamišková, the owner of the AMC, about the planned changes.

In the spirit of zero waste, no straw is the best straw. If it is needed for some reason, let it be environmentally friendly.

Reusable and elegant

Metal straws can replace a thousand of plastic ones.

Campaigners ON straw-free city

These students came up with the idea to turn Spišská Nová Ves to straw free city.

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YRE International

YRE International

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Sharing the winning entries of the Int. Young Reporters for the Environment (YRE) Competition and the Litter Less Campaign (LLC) Competition. See www.yre.global