Restaurants, town work toward strawless future
WESTPORT — A movement to abandon plastic straws has taken hold among town restaurants.
Westport’s Terrain Garden Cafe made the switch away from plastic straws in April, Terrain’s executive chef Jess Bengston said. She said Lori Cochran, executive director of the Westport Farmers Market, urged her about a year ago to make the change.
“Sourcing the straws has been a pain in in the butt,” Bengston said, noting the national movement away from plastic straws over the last several months has led to an increase in demand for paper alternatives and not enough supply.
Nationwide, large corporations, including the food-service company Bon Appetit and Starbucks, have vowed to phase out plastic straws to help reduce the more than 33 million tons of plastic the Environmental Protection Agency estimates Americans toss out each year. More than 7 percent of plastic products in the environment are made up of straws and stirrers, an analysis from Better Alternatives Now, showed.
Terrain eventually found a paper straw supplier in the company Aardvark. The cafe now no longer offers plastic straws, and gives customers paper straws with to-go cups and upon request only. Servers have worked hard to educate patrons about why the cafe no longer offers plastic straws, Bengston said, adding customers were annoyed when the product was first eliminated, but thought it was cool and trendy after Starbucks made the switch in early July.
Terrain is not the only town restaurant to do away with plastic straws. Over 25 Westport food establishments have shown support for the movement, Andrew Colabella, a member of Westport’s Representative Town Meeting, said. The 2015 viral video of a sea turtle that had a plastic straw stuck up its nostril first made him aware of the danger of plastic straws, he said.
As a member of the RTM’s environment committee, Colabella is working to write an ordinance to mandate town restaurants switch from plastic straws to biodegradable alternatives.
“This is my first time ever writing an ordinance and I’m not going to lie, it’s stressful and hard to write in a legal way, but it’s a lesson and I’ve loved it,” Colabella said.
Colabella is taking inspiration for the straw ordinance from the RTM’s plastic bag ban ordinance, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, and said the new ordinance fits into the town’s commitment to net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
The straw ordinance is still in the revision process and, if passed, will not take effect for a while.
In the meantime, restaurants, such as Match Burger Lobster, are making the transition on their own. Match owner and chef Matt Storch said his lobster shop in Saugatuck made the switch from plastic straws three weeks ago and was also first encouraged to make the change by Cochran at the farmers market.
Eliminating plastic straws is only one part of Storch’s plan to eliminate single-use plastics, such as plastic to-go containers and cocktails stirrers, which he said has been in works at Match for the last several years.
Celebrity Melissa Joan Hart, who lives in Westport, has also shown support for the strawless movement through social media posts and by encouraging local restaurants, such as Terrain, to get on board.
Like any big change, the movement away from plastic straws and toward a strawless society will take time, but is a step in the right direction, Bengtson said.
“I’m often disappointed by how many people still want paper straws, but I would rather give out one million paper straws than give out one plastic straw,” she said.