From left: Students Bennet Jude, Sumedha Mohanty and Mihira Anand discuss the #reduceplasticstraw’ campaign with an employee of Chili’s restaurant at Dubai Mall. Image Credit: GEMS Modern Academy, Dubai

Dubai: Several leading restaurants in Dubai have ditched plastic straws following an environmental campaign by schoolchildren.

Students from GEMS Modern Academy in Dubai have been visiting restaurants to convince them to discontinue plastic straws or make them available only when customers ask.

Plastic straws take hundreds of years to break down and hurt wildlife who mistake straws for food. Students said restaurants should switch to environment-friendly and cheaper paper or bamboo straws.

To reduce plastic straw use in Dubai, more than 100 senior students from GEMS Modern Academy have joined hands with local not-for-profit marine conservation organisation Azraq, which means blue in Arabic.

Azraq had visited the Indian-curriculum school in Nad Al Sheba recently to discuss how students can participate in its campaign, launched earlier this year, to urge restaurants to ditch plastic straws. The school also has its own policy against the use of plastics on campus.

‘More plastic than fish’

Natalie Banks, managing director of Azraq, says on www.azraqme.org that “The World Economic Forum has warned if action is not taken, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050”.

“Plastic straws end up in the ocean primarily through human error and an estimated 71 per cent of seabirds and 30 per cent of turtles have been found with plastics in their stomachs,” Banks says.

“It is fantastic to see young adults taking action in an attempt to reverse some of the damages already created by single-use plastic on our marine and urban environment.”

Student campaign

Following Azraq’s school visit, which took place around a month ago, students have been forming teams to visit Dubai restaurants as part of their ‘#reduceplasticstraw’ campaign. Restaurants who have signed up so far include Chili’s and Joe’s Crab Shack in Dubai Mall, as well as Barbeque Nation, Daily Restaurant, Peshwa Restaurant, Sthan and Jaffer Bhai’s in Karama, among others.

Nargish Khambatta, principal of GEMS Modern Academy, said even the school’s KG section has started a ‘Say No to Straws’ campaign, with parents joining in.

Khambatta added: “The senior students have been campaigning with local restaurants to ‘ban the straw’ and not offer it to their customers. While we are very pleased they have signed on the dotted line, the question on our minds is, if a customer insists, will they hold fort and refuse? We are so pleased to see the sincerity with which our students have adopted this and are working very hard to get adults to buy in as well. Our earth is indeed in safe hands.”

‘Equal passion’

Grade 10 student Pooja Hari said her team convinced 17 restaurants to either ‘serve [plastic straws] upon request’ or to replace plastic straws with bamboo straws or paper straws. She added: “Initially, it was a little bit hard because restaurant managers asked us questions like ‘why is this campaign so important’ and ‘why does this cause matter so much to you’. Once we explained how our school encourages us to take up such initiatives to reduce the amount of plastic generated around the world each year, and after presenting them with a lot of statistics, they were convinced and showed equal passion in supporting our cause.”

Another grade 10 student, Mihira Anand, said her team managed to convince 10 restaurants to ditch straws or make them optional on the menu. She added that a few multinational fast food chains who were approached said they could not promise to sign up as such decisions could only be taken at a higher level. However, some fine dining restaurants agreed to place an option on their menu that they would only give out straws upon request.