For most people the occurrence happens without a second thought: you order a drink somewhere, anywhere, and you get a straw with it.
But the straw that’s almost always handed to you at restaurants and other food joints can be deadly because it doesn’t biodegrade. Instead, many of the shocking 500,000,000 straws used each day in America end up in oceans, where marine life mistake them for food and fatally eat the straws or suffer reproductive problems due to the BPA released as the straw breaks down.
Ocean Conservancy estimates its volunteers have picked up more than half a million straws and coffee stirrers in its time cleaning the oceans, and more organizations like theirs are asking people to skip the straw while they’re out and just drink straight from the glass.
In fact, National Skip the Straw Day is right around the corner on Feb. 23, when restaurants and foodies worldwide make a conscious effort to reduce straw waste by not automatically handing out straws to all customers, a norm at this point in time, or refusing a straw when offered to them.
A local participant of Skip the Straw day will be Lento, a farm-to-table restaurant on North Goodman Street which opened in 2007. Chef and Owner Art Rogers said the restaurant will print a note on it’s menu, which is new each day, spreading the word about Skip the Straw day and why Lento is committed to participating.
But as for reducing straw waste, it’s something the restaurant has been taking steps toward for several months now, Rogers explained.
“If we don’t take care of our planet, we won’t have a planet to live on, whether it’s for us or our kids or our kids’ kids,” -Parros
“We switched from wrapped straws to unwrapped and encourage people to ask for them,” Rogers said. “If you just give it out not only do people not use it, but it just goes straight into the garbage.”
Rogers was inspired to reduce waste after hearing about the issues on the news several months ago. Before that he had never really thought about how unnecessary straws are – after all, to not use one simply means picking up your glass and tipping back your head to drink directly from it. Most people, he said, don’t care about the lack of straw at all.
When Rogers started Lento in 2007 he dreamed of creating amazing dishes working with local farms in the most sustainable way possible. He soon realized the restaurant reducing its plastic straw usage aligns with these goals.
“All of our food, whether it be plant or meat based, is based on the soil and the environment it’s grown in,” Rogers said. “We want the cleanest environment to be able to grow and raise our food products in.”
The Red Fern is another Rochester restaurant committed to reducing its waste year-round. Andrea Parros, owner and operator of the vegan restaurant, said they won’t be doing anything special to participate with Skip the Straw on Feb. 23 because they already participate daily.
Parros said the restaurant uses 100 percent compostable straws, and also uses cutlery, to-go boxes, and hot and cold cups which are all compostable as well. It’s an easy initiative for the restaurant to get behind because much of the vegan outlook follows a minimal waste lifestyle.
“I think when you’re talking about vegan you almost end up talking about green in the same sentence, because vegan is the greenest way people can eat right now,” Parros said. “You’re using less resources to produce the food.”
In addition to using compostable to-go materials, The Red Fern composts all of its food scraps, uses LED lights and green cleaning products. Currently, the Oxford Street restaurant is waiting to hear back from New York State on the status of its Green Business Certificate, which was applied for in the last few weeks.
If they get it, The Red Fern will be distinguished as a restaurant that upholds sustainable practices in its everyday business.
For Parros, it’s simple.
“It’s kind of so obvious, it’s kind of black and white,” she said. “If we don’t take care of our planet, we won’t have a planet to live on, whether it’s for us or our kids or our kids’ kids.”