Historic Triangle businesses large and small have decided to cease or reduce the use of single-use plastic drinking straws, saying the move will help reduce plastic pollution in the environment.
Discarded plastic can leak chemicals into the environment, be ingested by animals or displace animals, according to the Plastic Pollution Coalition, an international organization dedicated to combating plastic pollution.
Across the nation, companies have decided to stop using plastic straws to combat pollution in recent months. At home, local branches of large companies such as Great Wolf Lodge and locally owned restaurants such as Culture Cafe have made the decision to switch, while other area businesses such as Amber Ox are still thinking about it.
“We want to do a better job at one-time use plastics,” said Louise Wood, co-owner of Culture Cafe.
Culture Café stopped offering plastic straws in favor of a paper alternative about two months ago. And so far, the response among customers has been positive, owner Louise Wood said.
“They were so thrilled,” she said of her customers’ response. “It was nice to see other people care.”
Great Wolf Lodge announced July 31 that it would cease offering plastic straws at all 17 of its indoor water park resorts, including its resort in the Williamsburg area. Instead, resorts will provide more environmentally friendly paper straws.
The company intends to remove plastic straws from its food and beverage locations before the end of year. The effort is expected to prevent more than 5 million plastic straws from entering landfills every year, according to a company news release.
“We want to improve our resorts and reduce our environmental impact,” said Terry Bechtold, general manager of Great Wolf Lodge Williamsburg. “Removing straws is the right thing to do.”
While Great Wolf Lodge will primarily offer paper straws. Resorts will also stock plastic straws for individuals unable to drink from the non-flexible paper straws for medical reasons, Bechtold said.
SeaWorld Entertainment, which owns Water Country USA and Busch Gardens Williamsburg, announced it ceased offering single-use plastic straws and single-use plastic shopping bags at its 12 theme parks in June.
Great Wolf Lodge and SeaWorld Entertainment fall in line with other national companies that have pledged to stop using plastic straws recently. Other companies include Starbucks and American Airlines. Seattle enacted a plastic straw ban in July.
“We are pleased to see that Starbucks and others have followed our lead in seeking to eliminate the use of plastic straws,” said Debi and Glenn Helseth of Carrot Tree, which began using a compostable straw a year ago, in a letter to The Virginia Gazette July 12. “We encourage others to join us in our crusade to eliminate the threat plastic poses to our future.”
Other local restaurants have joined the movement.
The Corner Pocket switched to a straw-by-request system in June. Servers no longer bring straws to tables unless a customer requests one. The restaurant got the idea from a customer who had seen a similar policy at a restaurant in Ocean City, Md., owner Lynn Allison said.
So far, results have been mixed. Some customers have been less receptive to the program than others, though as time goes on it seems like more people will get used to the idea, Allison said.
“As it grows, people will be more accepting of it,” Allison said.
Americans discard more than 30 million tons of plastic annually, 8 percent of which gets recycled. Thirty-three percent of plastic items are used once and then discarded, according to the Plastic Pollution Coalition.
“It’s the end of life of plastic that’s the problem,” said Kirk Havens, assistant director of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science’s Center for Coastal Resources Management.
Environmentally conscious businesses have set their sights on single-use plastic drinking straws, pledging to scale back or replace them with alternatives to help cut down on pollution.
Why have plastic straws taken center stage instead of other plastic products? It may be their ubiquity, being a common feature of Americans’ restaurant experiences.
“It’s something people can wrap their minds around,” said Donna Bilkovic, a research associate professor at the Center for Coastal Resources Management.
Plastic straws are also a prominent form of plastic pollution, being among the top 10 most commonly collected plastic items found during coastal cleanup efforts across the world, Havens said.
Americans use 500 million straws every day. By 2050, it’s projected there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish, according to the Strawless Ocean website, which is a resource developed by environmental action agency Lonely Whale.
Plastic straws pose a number of risks to aquatic wildlife. As with plastic bags, straws can be mistaken for food or physically damage or impede the movement of marine life. Plastic items break into smaller and smaller pieces over time, making them an easily ingested toxin, Bilkovic said.
Amber Ox has also been considering a switch from plastic to paper straws.
“We are considering making the move to paper straws, but have not done this yet. We are currently weighing the increased cost versus the positive environmental impact this will make,” co-owner Andrew Voss wrote in an email.
Voss said Amber Ox will likely make the change, but it will come at a cost. Paper straws are, on average, about 10 times the cost of plastic straws, meaning independent family-owned restaurants may struggle to shoulder that cost.
The Cheese Shop is likewise weighing a switch to paper straws and hopes to replace its plastic straws by the end of the year, said co-owner Mary Ellen Power Rogers.
“It’s definitely a trend in our industry,” she said. “People need to be more conscious and aware of what they’re consuming.”
Jacobs can be reached by phone at 757-298-6007.