Re­duc­ing its im­pact

Grain aims to cut use of straws to help en­vi­ron­ment

Newark Post - - FRONT PAGE - By JOSH SHAN­NON jshan­non@ches­pub.com

Few peo­ple give it a sec­ond thought, but plas­tic straws are om­nipresent in mod­ern life.

Or­der a soda at a restau­rant, and the wait­ress is sure to drop a straw on your ta­ble. Bar­tenders are quick to reach for a straw when serv­ing a cock­tail. Swing through a fast-food drive-thru or grab your daily iced cof­fee at Star­bucks, and you’re sure to get a straw.

Straws are tiny, but mil­lions of them add up and fill land­fills and cause pol­lu­tion in the ocean. As a re­sult, sev­eral or­ga­ni­za­tions are try­ing to re­duce the use of straws by ed­u­cat­ing peo­ple about the en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact of straws.

In Ne­wark, one lo­cal restau­rant re­cently made straws op­tional in an at­tempt to re­duce their use. Since July, cus­tomers at Grain Craft Bar + Kitchen only re­ceive a straw with their bev­er­age if they specif­i­cally re­quest one.

“It’s def­i­nitely a habit change, but it’s been well re­ceived,” co-owner Lee Mik­les said. “When you’re home, you never use a straw. Why is this any dif­fer­ent?”

Mik­les de­ter­mined that be­tween his Ne­wark restau­rant and two oth­ers he re­cently opened in Bear and Ken­nett Square, Pa., he was on pace to use an es­ti­mated 1 mil­lion straws over the course of a year.

Mul­ti­ply that by mil­lions of restau­rants around the coun­try, and Amer­i­cans go through 180 bil­lion straws each year, or 500 mil­lion ev­ery day, ac­cord­ing to the Surfrider As­so­ci­a­tion, an or­ga­ni­za­tion that works to im­prove the health of the world’s oceans. Plas­tic straws are of­ten ranked among the most com­mon items found on the beach dur­ing cleanups and eas­ily travel to the ocean, harm­ing or­gan­isms, wildlife, and the gen­eral bio­di­ver­sity of the oceans, ac­cord­ing to the or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Mik­les be­gan re­search­ing the Surfrider As­so­ci­a­tion’s “Plas­tic Straws Suck” cam­paign at the sug­ges­tion of the Rev. Cyn­thia Robin­son, from New Ark United Church of Christ. With her church just a block away from the restau­rant, Robin­son is a fre­quent cus­tomer at Grain and holds weekly “of­fice hours” there ev­ery Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon as a way to give peo­ple a dif­fer­ent, ca­sual set­ting to talk to her about re­li­gion.

Robin­son said she was spurred to ac­tion af­ter learn­ing about the ef­fect of plas­tic on sea crea­tures who of­ten in­gest it think­ing its food.

“It’s not a cru­sade, but I just thought, here’s a small thing that could hap­pen,” she said. “Peo­ple pooh­pooh small steps, but tak­ing 1 mil­lion straws out of the dump is a big thing.”

Mik­les looked into the anti-straws cam­paign and sur­veyed his staff on the idea.

“Ev­ery­one was be­hind it,” he re­called, adding that he’s re­ceived few com­plaints, if any, from cus­tomers.

Grain still stocks straws, but they are only served with kids’ bev­er­ages, frozen drinks and by re­quest. Small signs on the ta­bles let cus­tomers know why straws are no longer served au­to­mat­i­cally. So far, Mik­les has seen a 90 per­cent de­crease in the num­ber of straws served.

“Maybe it will in­spire oth­ers,” he said.

NE­WARK POST PHOTO BY JOSH SHAN­NON

At the sug­ges­tion of the Rev. Cyn­thia Robin­son (right), from New Ark United Church of Christ, Grain Craft Bar + Kitchen co-owner Lee Mik­les (left) de­cided to serve straws by re­quest only. He ex­pects the move to keep hun­dreds of thou­sands of plas­tic straws out of land­fills and oceans.

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