During my search for the next positive initiative to highlight for us to support and learn from, I stumbled across an extremely fresh start-up, The Last Straw TLS. It was immediately evident that we had to support such startups because the sustainability industry is gaining traction but we need to help expedite this process as well. Raising awareness of fresh startups can help us be mindful of local entrepreneurs working towards a better planet, and as consumers we can contribute to their growth while minimizing our environmental footprint. As potential entrepreneurs, or as employers and employees, we can learn various tips and tricks to implement changes at your workplaces and homes itself.
Our post this week features an interview with Jill and Kirby, the founders of The Last Straw TLS. Have a read about their journey, their motivations and all that we can learn. Knowledge sharing is everything for us to move forward unified to save our planet. These are young entrepreneurs so they are also open to any feedback as well!
Tell us about yourself
Jill – I am a psychology major with a goal of later pursuing a master’s in counselling. Trying to figure out exactly what I want to do with my life has been a long road for me, however, I have always had it in my mind that whatever I do, I want to be able to make a difference. I am so fortunate to come from a big, loving family that I can always count on to be there for me. I have a love for art and design which I have been able to apply within my role at The Last Straw, and a passion for working with children and individuals with exceptional abilities. Regardless of where I end up, my goal is to be able to pass on some of the love, kindness, and support I have been blessed with to others around me.
As of right now, I just wrapped up the 3rd year of my degree and will be starting spring classes to get a head start on my final year. I work as a server part-time to be able to go to school while living with my boyfriend, and now business partner, Kirby. Working on The Last Straw with Kirby has been an incredibly eye-opening learning experience and I have much more to learn still! I owe a lot to Kirby for spending hours watching YouTube videos on strategy methods, sorting out most difficulties we have ran into, and maintaining contact with our partners, all while working two jobs!
Kirby– I came from a small rural town of roughly 5000 people and moved to Edmonton in 2015 to attend the University of Alberta School of Business. I personally never really thought I had the “entrepreneurial spirit” spoken of by my professors and mentors, although I was in business, I never expected to own one, that’s for sure!
Currently, other than helping run The Last Straw and living with the love of my life Jill, I’m just a simple guy who’s stuck in school but hoping to finish his degree within the decade. Taking life day by day, I’m trying to make whatever positive impact I can on the world while I’m still here while just finding happiness in the small things of life.
We can all make a change no matter what stage of life we are currently in!Learnings
What was your motivation behind joining the sustainability movement?
Jill – Personally, I have been motivated by my desire to feel optimistic about the future of our planet and, in recent years, I have genuinely felt myself becoming more and more discouraged when it comes to the environmental crisis we are in.
Aside from basic recycling and proper waste disposal practices, I must admit there was not a whole lot I was consciously doing to reduce my own ecological footprint. I began feeling guilty every time I would go to the grocery store and grab a plastic bag to put produce in. I started feeling embarrassed when I was becoming aware of how much garbage I throw away over the course of a single day. I realized these negative emotions were the result of my actions not aligning with my beliefs and I had to change my lifestyle if I ever wanted to feel confident that environmental change can move in a positive direction.
Kirby– Like Jill, I also just primarily practiced basic recycling and waste disposal, that is until I had the opportunity to work as a business analyst within the City of Edmonton Waste Branch, where I really realized the necessity to advocate for change. During my time within the City of Edmonton organization I had the chance to witness just how much waste one individual city alone produced year over year. As a business analyst I had the ability to look retrospectively at the historical waste tonnages documented by the city, dating back multiple decades, and what I saw was alarming. But another one of my responsibilities was also to forecast, or “accurately predicted the future”, regarding the effects of small changes on how much waste could be diverted away from the landfill. It was through this responsibility that I realized just how large of an effect we can have if everyone would commit to just the smallest lifestyle changes.
Being mindful and open to learning the problems our world is facing helps us appreciate our planet more and act to preserve it!Learnings
Why did you decide to start The Last Straw?
Jill – As a server (and regular consumer) I have been contributing first-hand to the single-use plastics problem for far too long. It is absolutely appalling to see the amount of plastic and garbage thrown away in the restaurant industry – so much so, I took it upon myself to stop giving my customers straws unless they asked, or I thought necessary. However, with other restaurants ditching the plastic straw altogether, I realized how much I hate trying to drink ice-filled cocktails without a straw (almost as much as I hate drinking through soggy cardboard)! Also considering that some individuals depend on straws to be able to drink, I believe it is important to provide people with an alternate solution before single-use plastic straws are completely banned. The Last Straw’s reusable stainless-steel straws give people the opportunity to continue enjoying beverages through a straw while remaining environmentally conscious!
Kirby– As previously stated, I had the opportunity as a Business Analyst to precisely realize how large of an impact can be made if everyone would commit to just the smallest lifestyle changes. However, in my mind, I felt like one of the biggest deterrents from sustainable practices is cost, so The Last Straw was an opportunity to provide users quality sustainable products at affordable prices. Although the store does provide us with a modest profit margin, the primary motivation overall for creating The Last Straw was to make a positive impact on the community while spreading awareness on the necessity of sustainable practices.
Take it upon yourself at your workplace, or through your own small lifestyle changes to positively impact our environment.Learnings
What is The Last Straw in one sentence?
The Last Straw is a Canadian-born company with a focus on improving the well-being of our planet through promoting sustainable practices and a mission to provide our customers with the highest quality reusable products in leu of single-use plastic items.
There are other competitors out there, I’m sure, what differentiates The Last Straw from the others?
In honor of our online grand opening, The Last Straw will be giving away their 4pc Stainless Steel Straw Sets + Brush for FREE to kickstart our movement towards ending plastic pollution. We just ask you pay a small shipping cost which goes towards plastic-free packaging!
Contribute to startups so the plastic-free movement can gain momentum on the demand side of thingsLearnings
I’m sure your journey is quite exciting until now, what and when was the breakthrough moment for you?
In the beginning, we were not sure if we would be able to find a supplier who would agree to eliminate plastic packaging – a condition which we require to maintain the integrity of our company’s message. Fortunately, after some back and forth with several suppliers, we were successful in doing so and I would say it was at that point when it became a real and obtainable goal to us.
Find likeminded people to knowledge share with as there are so many people wanting to help however, possibleLearnings
Would you mind highlighting The Last Straw journey for us?
The Last Straw was recently founded in March 2019, with our recent launch being on April 22nd, Earth Day! As it has been a relatively short journey to date, it has mostly consisted of creating our content and communicating back and forth with our partners to try and get everything organized! Follow us on Facebook and Instagram @TheLastStrawtls for updates 😊
What does The Last Straw hope to contribute to?
The Last Straw embodies a motion to stop environmental decay in hopes of leaving a small positive impact on a big problem. Currently, 10% of the 260 million tonnes of plastic generated worldwide annually ends up in our oceans. Such plastic contributes to the death of birds, sea turtles, fish, and other aquatic animals who ingest or become entangled in plastic. We believe that enough is enough and we must enact the change we hope to see around us. That is why we have committed to donating 10% of all revenues raised to the Plastic Oceans Foundation to assist in their ongoing fight for environmental sustainability.
If you’re passionate about something, enact the change we hope to see around us!Learnings
What does The Last Straw product line consist of?
4 pc Stainless Steel Straw Sets + Brush (5 pieces total) available bent or straight in shape and in the following colours: GOLD, SILVER, NEON, ROSE GOLD, BLACK
What are the future goals for The Last Straw, moving forward? Vision and Roadmap?
Since we just recently launched, our horizon has not been planned extensively into the future, but we are currently focusing primarily on gaining reach and spreading awareness. Although we currently are focusing on straws, we have discussed branching out into different sustainable product lines!
Being aware and mindful that not everyone understands the negative impact of plastic pollution on our environment, it is so important to educate, have active conversations and raise awarenessLearnings
What obstacles have you encountered in your journey?
There are many obstacles throughout any journey and it would be a lie to say that we aren’t still battling a few right now! One of the first obstacles we overcame was the issue of our supplier’s initial use of excessive plastic packaging. We want to practice what we preach and advocating against single-use plastic items contradicts plastic packaging! A second obstacle was having to figure out a way to offer the affordable solution possible, cost was a major focus for us going in and a goal that we wanted to meet. We strongly believe that living a low-waste and sustainable lifestyle can and should be affordable!
Don’t let obstacles form blocks in your journey to helping move towards a better planet – we must fuel the paradigm shift and not give upLearnings
What has been your proudest moment during your journey?
As first-time business-owners we quite honestly had relatively low expectations for The Last Straw. The proudest moment we can recall so far would have to be our first sale to a customer not linked to us through family or friends, and not even within our country! The support of our family and friends means the world to us, however, it wasn’t until we began reaching people from outside of our circles that we began to feel like we were successfully making an impact.
Don’t be afraid to start something new. Additionally, we must all choose to support local and new startups to help zero-waste lifestyle gain traction and eliminate plastic pollutionLearnings
What does sustainability and zero-waste mean to you?
Living a sustainable and zero-waste lifestyle requires everyday conscious effort. With that being said, good habits become easier and easier to maintain overtime. Starting small is OK; eventually the little things you do consciously and consistently will become part of your routine and you might just find yourself looking for the next change you can make towards a zero-waste lifestyle!
If you were to give people an idea of how to make changes in their lives, in terms of living a low-waste lifestyle and low emissions, what are three things you’d advice?
We think a good place to start focusing on a journey towards a low-waste lifestyle is at the grocery store. Begin by bringing your own reusable bags, including reusable produce bags if you’re not comfortable placing your fruits and veggies right in your cart/basket. Bringing your own containers and buying bulk items is a great way to reduce your waste and save some money at the same time! This method can double as a money-saving strategy because products with less packaging tend to cost less due to the suppliers minimal packaging costs. We understand that it isn’t easy to go completely waste-less, which is why we believe the most important thing you can do every day is to be conscious about what you dispose and how you dispose of it.
Be conscious of everything you do and everything around youLearnings
For sustainability entrepreneurs like yourself, what three tips/advice do you have?
If your goals include achieving environmental sustainability and reducing waste, you don’t need all the money in the world; a little motivation and care can go a long way. The Earth has provided us with so much life and opportunity, it is important to not lose sight of how lucky we are to be here. If you want to build a company around sustainable practices and truly hope to make a difference, contribute what you can to the movement and give back to the Earth!
Thank you for your time and effort to share your thoughts and insights with us, Jill and Kirby! This is a huge contribution and step forward to a greener future without single-use plastics and plastic pollution.