Plas­tic straws on way out

Many look­ing ahead to what could be next: Dis­pos­able flat­ware? Sin­gle-use bags?

Orlando Sentinel (Sunday) - - FRONT PAGE - By Kyle Arnold Or­lando Sen­tinel

Jen­nifer Gossen likes the ideas of giv­ing up plas­tic straws to help the en­vi­ron­ment un­til she thinks about drink­ing out of dirty glasses at restau­rants or what her chil­dren are go­ing to do.

“Kids need straws,” said the Or­lando mom. “Any par­ent and any­one who has waited on ta­bles un­der­stands that.”

She may have to find an al­ter­na­tive soon.

Restau­rant op­er­a­tors, ho­tels and theme parks in Cen­tral Florida are ac­knowl­edg­ing the plas­tic straw is on the way out — and soon other con­ve­niences will be un­der at­tack too. Many are look­ing ahead at dis­pos­able sil­ver­ware and sin­gle-use plas­tic bags as the next marked for elim­i­na­tion.

The changes came swiftly af­ter en­vi­ron­men­tal groups lob­bied chains early in 2018 to ditch straws in an at­tempt to keep plas­tics out of oceans and marine life.

SeaWorld adopted a pol­icy in June that it would only give out straws on re­quest, fol­lowed by Dis­ney and restau­rant chains such as Red Lob­ster and Star­bucks. Or­lando’s Rosen Ho­tels & Re­sorts said they would elim­i­nate the use of plas­tic straws at its 26 restau­rants by next year. Even gov­ern­ments such as Mi­ami Beach have moved to elim­i­nate plas­tic straws.

“The move­ment is gath­er­ing a lot of mo­men­tum around the coun­try and here in Or­lando,” said Fred Thimm, owner of Reel Fish Coastal Kitchen & Bar in Win­ter Park, a restau­rant that has ditched plas­tic straws. “Straws are in­sid­i­ous, not only be­cause of the way seabirds and fish can in­gest them. From an en­vi­ron­men­tal stand-

point, there are mil­lions of tons of plas­tic be­ing dumped into the ocean.”

Even restau­rants that haven’t en­acted anti-straw poli­cies are look­ing for al­ter­na­tives.

But as the anti-plas­tic straw move­ment builds mo­men­tum, many are won­der­ing if there is a vi­able al­ter­na­tive. Pa­per straws get soggy and aren’t good for hot drinks and milk­shakes. Re­us­able straws are not only ex­pen­sive and theft­prone but are tough to clean.

“Like any­thing that is a push to­ward eco-friendly, there is a love-hate re­la­tion­ship in the in­dus­try,” said Christina Don­ahue, pres­i­dent of Waltham, Mass.based Din­ing Al­liance, a com­pany that pools to­gether with small restau­rants and chains for more pur­chas­ing power.

“You want to be con­scious of what’s go­ing on, but it’s go­ing to come at a price.”

With the swift pub­lic turn against plas­tic straws, she also thinks busi­nesses will have to find an al­ter­na­tive to plas­tic bags soon.

“There are re­us­able bags out there, but I never think of bring­ing those when I go out,” Don­ahue said. “Some of this is go­ing to be on the busi­nesses, and some of it will be on train­ing con­sumers.”

Or­lando-based Red Lob­ster is start­ing this month to of­fer straws on re­quest. It has also switched over to re­cy­clable take-out con­tain­ers in­stead of sty­ro­foam.

“Plas­tic straws are just the be­gin­ning,” said Red Lob­ster spokes­woman Ni­cole Bott. “We are look­ing at ev­ery­thing. The next step is look­ing at how to cut back on waste in the sup­ply line.”

It is still us­ing straws on al­co­holic bev­er­ages to dis­tin­guish those from non-al­co­holic drinks, she said.

Be­cause the straw pol­icy started this month, they are still wait­ing to see how cus­tomers re­act, she said.

Win­ter Park’s Reel Fish has turned to pa­per straws and foil take­out con­tain­ers, but the change comes at a cost, Thimm said.

“It def­i­nitely isn’t sav­ing us money, even if peo­ple use fewer straws in gen­eral,” he said.

For in­stance, a case of foam take-out con­tain­ers costs $25, com­pared with $58 for pa­per and re­cy­clable-plas­tics, said Don­ahue, of Din­ing Al­liance.

Don­ahue said the move has come so fast, prices are still high for en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly al­ter­na­tives.

Thimm said although cus­tomers at his dine-in restau­rant have been un­der­stand­ing about straws, it’s a tougher sell for restau­rants that rely on drive-thru and carry-out traf­fic.

Or­lando’s Beefy King has con­sid­ered plas­tic al­ter­na­tives for straws, but owner Roland Smith doesn’t see how it can be done.

“Pa­per straws just don’t hold up,” Smith said. “And noth­ing we’ve seen would work for a milk­shake.”

The restau­rant is a throw­back in other ways, such as the foam cups that Smith said keeps drinks colder than pa­per cups do.

Still, he said Beefy King is talk­ing with sup­pli­ers since he knows the mo­men­tum is shift­ing fast.

“I’m all for sav­ing the en­vi­ron­ment and I’m all for get­ting rid of plas­tic straws,” he said. “But in our sit­u­a­tion, I think we still need plas­tic straws.”

JA­COB LANGSTON/OR­LANDO SEN­TINEL

Reel Fish Coastal Kitchen & Bar owner Fred Thimm shows the pa­per al­ter­na­tive to plas­tic straws be­ing of­fered to pa­trons. Ac­cord­ing to an in­dus­try ex­pert, “Like any­thing that is a push to­ward eco-friendly, there is a love-hate re­la­tion­ship in the in­dus­try.”

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