When Sydney Opera House made the decision to replace plastic straws at all their food and drink venues they calculated how many single-use plastic straws they’d be saving from landfill. The total was 2.2 million straws per annum. “That blew my mind,” says Opera House environmental sustainability manager Emma Bombonato. “We calculated Opera Bar alone were using around 1.1 million straws per year.”
Since August 1, all five restaurants at the House (including Bennelong, Opera Bar, Opera Kitchen and Portside) have stopped using plastic straws. They spent months choosing the right paper ones to offer to patrons and, as Bombonato explains, they carefully considered the individual needs of their 8.2 million visitors each year.
“We obviously have to think, very importantly, about people with disabilities and providing straws for those who request it and need it.” And so able-bodied customers are now offered paper straws, but venues still have a small allocation of plastic ones for their customers who require them.
Sydney Opera House is joining many other local hospitality venues in the #sydneydoesntsuck movement, championed by deputy lord mayor Jess Miller. Bombonato says it’s thanks to campaigns like #thelaststraw and the ABC’s War on Waste that’s helping facilitate the conversation. “The increasing awareness makes it so much easier as the expectation becomes ‘Why are you giving me a straw?’ as opposed to ‘Why are you not giving me a straw?’”
However, since making the switch two weeks ago, the Opera House now has a problem: how should they dispose of the leftovers?
Approaching the issue creatively, they’ve commissioned experimental visual artist Francesca Pasquali to transform 15,000 unused plastic straws into art as part of September’s Antidote festival – an event that encourages positive solutions to contemporary issues.
Pasquali’s installation, ‘Plastic Islands’, will be created during the festival (you can watch it being put together from 10am-4pm in the Drama Theatre Foyer on September 2) and it’ll use clusters of clear plastic straws to create a topographic form reminiscent of Sydney Harbour. After the festival, the work will be available for the general public to admire in the Opera House’s Lounge area from September 17 to October 10.
Pasquali told Time Out that representing Sydney Harbour was vitally important to this work. She’s referencing her Straws series with the addition of a mirror, so the viewer can become part of the work itself.
“I sincerely hope the public will actively participate in the live realisation of the work; step by step they will be able to see how the work is modified, recognising the sea, represented by the blue reflecting surface, and the coastline, made up of thousands of straws that the Sydney Opera House has provided to me,” she says.
Ditching the plastic straws is part of the Opera House’s third Environmental Sustainability Plan, which includes increasing their recycling rate from 60 per cent to 85 per cent, improving their four-star Green Star Performance Rating to a five and becoming carbon neutral by their 50th anniversary in 2023.