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Plastic straw bans: Passing fad, or a must for restaurants?

straws
Pixabay rkit

Question:

Twice last week I got grief from guests for using plastic straws. Once in a nice way—“Please no straw in my drink”—and once less nicely: “Do you know these are terrible for the planet?” Is this a thing?

– Bar Manager, Philadelphia

Answer:

Yes, it’s a thing. And it has been for some time. But like many topics in the media, the plague of plastic straws on our environment has gotten a lot of press all at once recently. The problem, as I understand it, is that plastic straws are ubiquitous (an oft-cited stat is that we use 500 million per day in the U.S. alone) and unnecessary for many applications. And, while technically recyclable, they are either taking up space in the landfill, or too light to go through recycling machinery properly. They often blow away and litter land and sea, where they are particularly damaging to wildlife.

Operators are jumping on board. Last week, Bon Appetit Management Co. announced a companywide ban on plastic straws, and restaurateurs are encouraging their guests to skip the straw via social media, often accompanied by sad images of wildlife harmed by or interacting with straws. Municipalities are working in parallel, with plastic straw and stirrer bans.

While plastic straws may not be the most pressing environmental or social problem facing our industry (food waste surpasses it, for one), it is an easy fix. I think of it as a foodservice equivalent to the signs advising hotel guests to indicate if they would prefer their sheets and towels not be changed daily: The signs save expenses, water and chemicals, and show the operation’s commitment to sustainability. I see no reason not to do it.

My advice is to do the following:

  • Examine some of the research on the topic and look at your expenses on that inventory item to make an informed decision.
  • Remove straws as a standard drink garnish and make them available on request and/or switch to paper or reusable straws.
  • Train staff and develop language to educate guests on why you are not using plastic straws with every drink.
  • Monitor savings and guest satisfaction and revisit after a few months. I suspect it will be an improvement on both fronts.

 

More on plastic straws here. 

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