By Eric Warmoth
Lately, straws have dominated the national conversation surrounding plastic pollution in the media. While many people absentmindedly place them in their sodas, coffee, and smoothies without a second thought, they pose a grave danger to marine life and are among the top ten items found in beach cleanups every year.
Across the world, cities, states, countries, and businesses are considering different types of legislation or actions in hopes of reducing or eliminating plastic straw and other single-use plastic consumption.
Major companies like Marriott hotels, Disney, and Starbucks have agreed to phase out plastic straws in their businesses, while California looks to adopt an “on request only” policy. England hopes to implement limiting straws and plastic stirrers across the whole United Kingdom in the future, while Malibu, California and Seattle, Washington have fully implemented plastic straw bans.
Individuals and powerful organizations worldwide have begun realizing the simplicity and ease of eliminating plastic straws and taken action. Lonely Whale, described as an “ideas incubator” by Director of Strategic Partnerships Emma Riley, took ownership of this movement on social media as part of its overall goal to create a healthy, plastic-free ocean. Riley explained that she hopes to utilize entertainment media and a coalition of influential people to change the current conversation and set the stage for future action.
They were the organizers behind the first-of-its-kind citywide campaign called “Strawless in Seattle” that led to the city’s ban, and have been strong supporters of similar legislation in San Francisco and New York City, establishing heavy presences in both cities to support rallies and give supporters a voice.
But while major businesses and cities are pledging against plastic straws, how do we reach our local towns and restaurants?
GreenTown Los Altos’ “Skip the Straw” campaign has aimed at doing just that. Various members of GreenTown’s committee have teamed up to talk with restaurant managers throughout Los Altos.
To date, we have connected with 11 businesses to discuss their current policies and query them about their support for decreasing plastic straw use. Several businesses, such as Bumble, Morsey’s Farmhouse, Pompeii Ristorante, The Post, and The Sweet Shop, already offer straws on request or paper straws for certain applications (e.g., water glasses).
But many others feel that a switch to an “on request only” straws policy will be viewed as a decrease in their level of customer service. Other concerns include price: paper straws do cost more money than their plastic counterparts; and longevity: some restaurant managers were concerned that paper straws get soggy too quickly. GreenTown addressed the latter concern through research into straws that are long-lasting, which we share with the businesses we visit. Among the best products, Aardvark Straws has several excellent options that are long-lasting and come in form factors that businesses desire.
But how can we address business concerns about service and price? It’s up to consumers. If we can’t change the supply, then we have to change the demand. If every person who agrees with the goals of our Skip the Straw campaign–reducing plastic pollution–could talk to a waiter or waitress at just one restaurant, we would begin to see a difference. Restaurant owners are very responsive to their customers. If customers demand no straw or paper alternatives to plastic straws, change is possible.
Concerned that age will prevent you from being able to have these conversations with restaurants and business owners? Will business owners listen to kids who aren’t their main paying customers? Here are some examples of kids who have helped orchestrate major impacts and real change:
17-year-old Shelby O’Neil is the girl who made it her mission to get Alaskan Airlines to ban plastic straws and stirrers. Through her creation of the company Junior Ocean Guardians, she helped them to move towards a solution. The airline agreed to switch to eco-friendly straws and wooden stirring sticks by the end of 2018, starting a trend that spread to American Airlines and has the potential to convert other major airlines to the same environmental cause.
9-year-old Molly Steer in Australia started the Straw No More Project, convincing 16 schools across Queensland, starting with her own, to join her campaign and pledge to stop using plastic straws. She also had the chance to give a TEDx talk at James Cook University, which has amassed over 42 thousand views, spreading the no straw message far and wide.
As consumers of any age, we have the power to change the course of our environment for future generations. Please join GreenTown and Skip the Straw! Email us for more info or if you’d like to get involved in our local movement.