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GOING GREEN - The First Step Is The Last Straw: Social Storytelling Where Activism Meets Clickitivism

Posted By Jon Michael Kondrath, Monday, February 4, 2019

With the rise of content creation, there has been a shift to social storytelling, creating entertainment that not only connects people but is driven by collective good to engage and activate communities. AT&T is helping to carve this path forward and promote social storytelling through The Bright Fight, one of three series produced by Hello Lab, a joint venture with Fullscreen. The Bright Fight is a creator-led documentary series using digital influencers to promote online positivity and social responsibility. Scotty Sire, one of the three featured influencers, is out to save the environment, one straw at a time.

The advent of drinking tubes is unclear, but the oldest confirmed usage dates from 5,000 years ago—the walls of an ancient Sumerian tomb from approximately 3000 B.C. shows royals sipping through cylindrical tubes. Over the centuries straws have materialized from the exotic, gold and blue stone lapis lazuli, to simple dried reeds and—no surprise to anyone—straw. The latter of these drinking devices had the unfortunate side effect of falling apart or imparting an unwanted flavor to the beverage being imbibed.

Enter Marvin C. Stone, the man who filed the first patent for a drinking straw, due to his love of mint juleps and desiring the untainted flavor of mint. On a summer day in 1880, to avoid the earthy residue invading his taste buds, Stone wound some strips of paper around a pencil, then coated the hollow tube in paraffin. By 1890 his factory was mass producing the simple (and still earth-friendly) straw.

Just a little earlier, around 1870, the first plastics were invented and plastic products were created. Quickly Stone’s creation was married to the young plastics industry; plastic proved far more durable and cheaper than paraffin-coated paper. By the 1960s these seemingly innocuous pieces of plastic were being mass produced.

Today it is estimated that 500 million straws are used every single day in the US alone, more than 1.5 straws per person per day. That may seem like a lot, and it is. Most straws are between 4 inches (cocktail or stirring straws) and 10 inches (your typical green Starbucks straw) long. If you were to lay the straws end to end, you could circle the earth ... twice. We’re talking over 50,000 miles of straws per day. In a full year, that mega-straw would reach to the moon and back 42 times. Single-use plastic has become a hot-button environmental issue and plastic straws have drawn the short straw. The younger generation has demonstrated a resolute desire to preserve their planet and be more conscious of waste, by recycling, using alternatives to plastics or cutting out items that are unnecessary.

Top: Scotty Sire and Kristen McAtee lead the charge for The Bright Fight.
Bottom: Socially conscious citizens add their "last straws" to the art installation

AT&T Hello Lab wants to be a part of this conversation, tackling the specific topic of single-use plastic within the broader social movement. One of the goals of programming like The Bright Fight is fostering community, bringing people together to take action for good. Sire released one of his first episodes (“The Biggest Surprise of Her Life”) with a call to action. In mid-October, Sire along with fellow digital influencer Kristen McAtee, headed to Santa Monica to explore the city’s efforts to ban plastic straws by 2019 and encourage the community to engage through art. Sire and McAtee took to the Santa Monica Pier to get people to pledge “my last straw,” by placing their last plastic straw into an art installation surrounded by one of the largest victims of plastic use, the ocean.

Eight million tons of plastic end up in the ocean every year. Sire shared with pier dwellers that scientists speculate by 2050 there will be more pieces of plastic in the ocean than fish. (This assertion is backed by a report published by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.) Plastic debris in the ocean does not break down and can end up killing marine life or just floating endlessly in the ocean. There’s a floating mass of trash in the middle of the Pacific between California and Hawaii called, appropriately, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It’s two times wider than Texas and is comprised of more than 99% plastic.

After the call to action, Sire released an anthem for The Bright Fight, a song called “Last Straw,” featuring Mariah Amato encouraging people to stop using single-use plastic. The official lyric video presents a catchy tune, bright graphics and a message to join the fight. Targeting Gen Z, programming like The Bright Fight is designed for primary viewing on mobile and to align with socially conscious viewers who believe brands should be engaged in social good. The Bright Fight creates entertainment that propels the audience into engagement and participation outside of their screens. It’s important to get the influencers on board—social influencers, storytellers, celebrities and tastemakers. Sire himself has 2.3 million YouTube subscribers. If each of his subscribers took the “my last straw” pledge, that alone could eliminate 3.5 million straws per year.

It’s important to bear in mind that of the 8 million tons of plastic that go into the ocean every year, only 4% is plastic straws. But for the vast majority of people, plastic straws are single-use and are mostly a convenience item, not a necessity. They are an easily eliminated bit of excess and more importantly a “gateway plastic.” Eliminating plastic straws is just the first step in tackling the larger issue of plastics.

Several companies and governments are leading the “last straw” charge in their fields, banning single-use plastic straws. In July Seattle was the largest city to ban plastic straws (and utensils). San Francisco, Malibu and Santa Monica (as Sire explores in his one-on-one chat with Santa Monica mayor Ted Winterer) have also implemented their own bans. California became the first state to take action on the plastic straw, banning them in full-service restaurants starting in 2019, unless a customer specifically asks for one.

Making waves in the news have also been leaders in liquids, most notably Starbucks. The beverage behemoth has pledged to eliminate its iconic green, plastic straws by 2020, removing 1 billion straws per year. Walt Disney will also cut out plastic straws and stirrers by mid-2019. Even celebrities have joined the battle against plastic and straws, reaching out to their fans to back the effort.

Plastic straws may be the current hot topic, but hopefully the “last straw” is only the first step in creating a healthier earth.

- Photos courtesy of AT&T Hello Lab!

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