A six-year-old girl who inspired Pizza Express branches across the UK to ban plastic straws has received an honorary Eco Champion Award at Manchester’s Corn Exchange.
Last year, Ava James, who was aged just five at the time, wrote a heartfelt letter complaining that plastic straws “are very bad for animals” because “they get stuck in their mouths and noses”.
Her letter inspired Pizza Express to be one of the first chains to ban plastic straws from all of its 470 UK restaurants, as well as inspiring the Corn Exchange to review and reduce all its waste streams for all 13 venues.
Ava wrote the letter after she saw a picture of a turtle with a straw stuck in its nose on her mum’s Facebook page.
“She was quite upset about it, and asked if there is anything that we could do,” said her mum, Andrea.
Andrea had a think, and since they ate in Pizza Express regularly, she suggested they could send them a letter.
“She was only five, so we sat down and I asked what she wanted to say and then helped her with that. Then we sent it off. We sent the letter over a year ago and we didn’t expect to hear anything more about it.
“Pizza Express acknowledged the letter and that was the end of it as far as we were concerned, but then they contacted us in January saying they have plans to get rid of all the plastic straws in all the restaurants and asked if they could use Ava’s letter as their press release and it has been quite overwhelming since.
“We obviously hoped that there might be some acknowledgement, but we didn’t really expect anything to come of it so it’s been amazing this has actually happened and she has helped make that change.”
Andrea added that they have received little notes and thank you letters from people from all over the world, which has made her and her husband really proud.
“When we heard that Ava was visiting Manchester and planned to have lunch at Pizza Express we reached out to her to ask her if she’d be our first Eco Champion and learn how her letter had inspired not just Pizza Express but our entire scheme to review all our waste management practices,” said Corn Exchange Manchester general manager Liam Mooney.
“We plan to be plastic straw free by Christmas 2018. Encouraging all our venues to stop using plastic straws is just a small part of what we’ve been doing however. We have projects now underway to reduce our carbon footprint including glass waste reduction, reducing the frequency for collections and even the generation of energy from food waste which could be used to help power the scheme.”
Ava collected her award yesterday and got to make her own pizza at Pizza Express while she listened to staff talk about the changes they have made with regard to plastic straws.
“She’s had a ball, I think,” said Andrea. “She’s really overwhelmed, obviously, but it’s been a brilliant day.”
Ava remains committed to recalling and environmental issues.
“If we go to the beach she’ll pick up any plastic she sees,” says Andrea. “She picks up plastic straws and bags and makes sure they go in the bin. She tried to make her dad stop the car yesterday because she saw a plastic bag on the way, so she’s massively into that eco side of things. So I’m really, really pleased for her.”
Local businesses are increasingly taking the issue seriously, too.
Corn Exchange Manchester has announced they’re making a stand against unnecessary plastic waste, joining other high-profile venues and events in the city including the recently announced straw ban at Parklife.
Corn Exchange restaurants taking part in the scheme to date include Cabana, Cosy Club, Gino D’Acampo My Restaurant, Mowgli, Pizza Express, Salvi’s and Wahaca.
“We’re incredibly proud of our forward-thinking venues and for the efforts of our management team who constantly review our waste management practices to reduce our impact on the environment,” said Andrew Coles from Corn Exchange owners Aviva Investors.
Though Ava is delighted with the powerful response to her letter, the impact may take a while to sink in.
“She knows she’s done something great but I don’t think she’ll understand the enormity of the change until she’s a bit older,” said her mother Andrea.