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Global Ideas

Is that bamboo in my drink?

A young environmental activist has turned to biodegradable bamboo straw to combat the overuse of their plastic counterpart in Cambodia, and he's hoping to inspire others across the country to follow his lead.

Traveling around Cambodia, it seems there is no way to avoid plastic straws. They are everywhere. You buy bottled water, you get a plastic straw; you buy canned or cartoned juice, you get a plastic straw, and sometimes sellers hand out plastic bags and additional single-use straws. The question is why?

Because the fact is, straws are not necessary when drinking bottled or canned beverages. But in Cambodia, they are a habit rooted in hygiene. People are afraid of the germs outside the can or bottle, so they don't want to sip from it directly.  And that is a problem.

The South-east Asian country is facing a serious problem in the overuse of plastic. According to research conducted by an anti-poverty organization Fondazione ACRA, an urban dweller in the kingdom uses an average of 2,000 plastic bags a year. That is 10 times as many as in Europe. 

Chivorn Sokh, project secretary ofEco-Life Cambodia, a 10-month project seeking to push green business evolution in the country, sees this as an acute problem that needs to stop. "I was shocked by the video of the sea turtle with a straw in his nostril,” Chivorn said. "So I committed to not use any single-use straws again." 

Taking the lead

He turned to a bamboo straw, which he has been using for over a year now. Instead of throwing it away after use, he just puts it in warm water for a few minutes after use, then dries it with a piece of clean cloth. He is now hoping others will follow his lead.

"People in my country use plastic straws every day and everywhere," Chivorn told DW. "It is because they are cheap, convenient, and people don’t have alternatives."

Langlebigen Flash-Galerie (Fotolia/Tran-Photography)

Except, through bamboo, they do. Realizing the positive impacts of changing his own behavior towards plastic straws, Chivorn introduced the environmentally-friendly version to his eco-life Cambodia team. They loved the idea and launched campaigns to promote and support production and availability. 

They are now working with the original makers of the organic bamboo straw, Saarti, creating promotional videos, displaying the straws at public events, and assisting with distribution. They are also planning to make their own reusable straws.  

Small steps to big dreams

Using a bamboo straw might seem like a small deal, but in a country like Cambodia where people produce such huge amounts of plastic waste without realizing the impacts, it matters. 

Chivorn wants to encourage people to be more mindful of the trash they produce and to replace plastic with biodegradable products, and hopes, ultimately, to see plastic straws banned entirely.

He is convinced that reaching the goal is a team effort. "These days people mostly think it is not their responsibility," he said. "Small things that each individual changes, will change the world." 

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