McDonald’s seems to have listened to the public outcry: On June 15, the company announced that it would start testing alternatives to plastic straws at some U.S. locations later this year.
The trend is catching on: Starbucks recently announced that they would be ditching plastic straws by 2020.
But corporations are not the only brands turning away from plastic straws. Nearly three dozen restaurants in Indianapolis are now making efforts to curb their straw waste.
Those who know Jim Poyser will not be surprised by how this particular campaign née art project came about.
“I was in a restaurant looking at a sea of straws sticking out of glasses,” said Poyser, executive director of Earth Charter Indiana. Then he thought of a pun that just tickled him — a straw bale not made out of stalks of grain but the non-biodegradable, plastic tubes we get with every drink.
The waste adds up quickly, with an estimated 500 million straws being used and discarded every day in the United States alone. Many of the straws end up in the ocean, where they pose a threat to wildlife (a graphic video of a sea turtle having a straw removed from its nostrils went viral in 2015) and contribute to the ever-growing problem of microplastics.
With the help of the DaVinci Pursuit and some other local partners, Poyser’s #Strawbale campaign was born. Nearly 9,000 used (and cleaned) straws were collected for the straw bale. And recognizing the odds of anti-straw legislation in the land of the plastic bag ban ban, Poyser and his team of youths target local restaurants with a resolution to vow not to hand out straws unless specifically requested by customers.
“It’s just habit,” said Poyser of the common use of plastic straws. “We are poorly raised in this culture to believe that disposing of things is a good way to go. We’re raised to believe that there is such a thing as an ‘away.’ There’s no such thing as ‘away.’ It all goes somewhere.”
Now, nearly three dozen Indy bars and restaurants are changing the way they approach straws.
At the very least, they are only offering plastic straws upon request. Others are opting for paper or compostable straws.
“We serve hundreds of customers a day. So even if half of those customers use a straw, it’s thousands of straws every year that we’re reducing the waste from,” said Rachel Lekic, director of sustainability for Patachou Inc.
Lekic and her team implemented their first straw reduction policy earlier this year. She said they will still have straws on hand, particularly for customers with disabilities, and they’ll continue to serve straws with certain drinks (like frose). But for the most part, their straw-free policy is a way to express their sustainability values to the community at large.
“It’s not (just) a way to reduce the waste as much as possible,” Lekic said. “A lot of it is to reimagine what the relationship between the producer and the consumer is. How do we express our values to our customers?”
Ross Katz, owner of Rooster’s Kitchen, has seen how wasteful restaurants can be during his several years in the business.
“(You) look at the garbage at the end of the night. It’s mostly plastic waste,” Katz said.
Katz has worked on ways to reduce the impact of his restaurant, including implementing a “by request only” policy for straws. A frequent customer, who happened to work at the city’s office of sustainability, took note, and the pair is working together to roll out a public information campaign for restaurants curbing straw waste.
The city is currently in the process of developing a table tent that reminds restaurant patrons of their option to refuse single-use plastic items, according to Aliya Wishner, the city’s deputy communications director.
As for push back from customers, Katz hopes they’ll remember what plastic waste does — or doesn’t — do for a meal.
“It doesn’t add to it at all,” Katz said. “It’s just something that’s been commonplace and we don’t even think about it.”
Emily Hopkins covers the environment for IndyStar. Contact them at (317) 444-6409 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow them on Twitter: @_thetextfiles.