Think about your average restaurant experience.
You sit down at a table, order beverages, and each beverage gets its own plastic straw. Then you order food, maybe something messy like wings or pizza, and the server hands you a tall stack of disposable paper napkins.
You eat until you’re full, then you take a couple of plastic or styrofoam to-go boxes with your meal preserved inside. When you eat those leftovers the next day, the boxes go into the trash and off to the landfill.
Multiply this routine by millions of American restaurant patrons each day, and there’s a major environmental problem laid out in front of you.
Amy Smith, the owner of Tucson’s Exo Roast Co., is fed up with the harmful effects of plastic and decided that her business won’t be a part of it any longer. So, she replaced all the plastic straws in her shop with paper ones.
Via Facebook post, Exo told the public, “In our quest to be 100% plastic disposable free, we are starting with a terrible culprit in the destructive world of plastic crime—straws. We are also selling stainless steel straws.”
They noted that 500 million straws are used daily in the U.S., and most of that plastic ends up in oceans and in the stomachs of many marine animals, who only have a 50 percent chance of living once they ingest the harmful material.
Smith told me that her staff was very supportive of the switch to paper straws. Now the team is focused on the next hurdle: finding new hot beverage cups and lids that are better for the environment. The paper cups found in most coffee shops have a plastic lining which makes them non-compostable.
“There’s a whole fetish around cups,” Smith said about her line of work. “We stamp them, it has our name on it. People like their cups and we recognize that.”
In addition to changing her inventory, Smith is thinking about new ways to break the public’s plastic consumption habit.
“We’re toying around with the idea of what it would be like to charge for to-go stuff, just even a nickel, to start encouraging people to bring their own cups and change their habits,” Smith said. “Those small interruptions of people’s daily habitual routines will help I think. Straws seemed like the easiest low-hanging fruit to start with.”
Although some of these environment-friendly alternatives may be more costly for restaurants (paper straws cost more than plastic ones) Smith said that the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.
“To think about costs on this level is sort of unconscionable,” Smith said. “To think about my own minute percentages when you read the facts about what happens to plastic straws — it’s just not worth it to me to keep contributing to that.”
She believes the responsibility falls on business owners like herself to show the community how a plastic-free life is possible and better in the long run. She wants to see a change in the way we use the materials available to us.
Smith contacted her fellow business owners at Yellow Brick Coffee, Presta Coffee and Cans Deli to ask if they will join in on the move towards a less wasteful future. It might not be long before you see paper straws popping up all over town.
If you want to learn more about what plastic does to our environment or how you can reduce your plastic footprint, check out organizations like The Last Plastic Straw
, the Plastic Pollution Coalition
and For A Strawless Ocean