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THE LAST STRAW: Anne Baker, right, co-owner of Finnegan’s Wake, and Christa Gammon of the James River Basin Partnership say removing straws from use in restaurants will soon become the standard.
SBJ photo by Wes Hamilton
THE LAST STRAW: Anne Baker, right, co-owner of Finnegan’s Wake, and Christa Gammon of the James River Basin Partnership say removing straws from use in restaurants will soon become the standard.

Restaurants cut straws to fight plastic pollution

Posted online

In the Ozarks, restaurants are joining a global movement to scrap plastic straws.

Anne Baker, co-owner of Finnegan’s Wake, said the move occurred after cleaning out the downtown restaurant’s grease trap.

“It was 80 percent straws,” she said. “Imagine if it gets through these drains – what it does to our rivers and lakes.”

As a result, Finnegan’s Wake partnered this month with The James River Basin Partnership, White River Brewing Co. and Queen City Pub Crawls to roll out The Last Straw initiative. The mission is to encourage local businesses to use alternatives to plastic straws or do away with straws and stirrers to protect the environment from them.

The dozen local restaurants that already have taken the pledge join a larger movement. McDonald’s on June 15 announced the end of plastic straws in stores in the United Kingdom and Ireland, as well as its plans to test alternatives to plastic straws in U.S. markets. Alaska Airlines also has stopped using straws, and some cities, mostly in California, have banned the single-use plastic.

Americans use 500 million straws daily, according to the National Park Service. The World Economic Forum estimates that plastics in the ocean will outweigh fish pound for pound by 2050.

“The overwhelming response has been positive,” Baker said of Finnegan’s change.

She’s also rolled out the initiative at her other downtown restaurants, Tinga Tacos and Civil Kitchen.

The change is not without cost. Baker said plastic straws are about 1 cent per straw, compared with 5 cents per paper straw. However, in the six months since the change, Finnegan’s has ordered 6,000 paper straws compared with the 18,000 plastic straws it normally would have used – in part because patrons aren’t given straws automatically.

During the transition, Finnegan’s is paying roughly two-thirds more for straws. She said if more restaurants sign on, Finnegan’s distributor will begin stocking straw alternatives, which will lower the cost.

“It takes businesses stepping up and being accountable,” said Christa Gammon, membership and marketing manager at The James River Basin Partnership. “The more convenient we can make it, the more businesses can invest in this.”

Noting most of the garbage she’s found at waterway cleanups have been single-use plastics, Gammon hopes the shift becomes second nature for customers. “It won’t affect our everyday lives as negatively as it affects our environment,” she said.

In addition to Baker’s restaurants and founding partner White River Brewing,other businesses involved are Cafe Cusco, Cellar + Plate, Casper’s, Front of House Lounge, Lindberg’s Tavern, Nonna’s Italian Cafe, Outland Ballroom and Van Gogh’s Eeterie.

Baker said most of her customers are on board. But what if they ask for a straw?

“We say, ‘Just to let you know, we are trying to reduce waste,’” she said. “Probably half say, ‘Nope, never mind. That’s awesome.’”

If customers insist on straws, Baker said Finnegan’s offers paper straws, and Tinga Tacos and Civil Kitchen offer biodegradable plastic straws. The restaurant owners are considering a stainless steel straw option that customers could purchase at-cost.

Tom Muetzel, co-owner of Finnegan’s Wake, said the straws are the symbol for a bigger issue in the Ozarks.

“Our lakes, streams, hills and forests are such a big reason people come here,” he said. “If you look at the cities and countries that are already either legislating toward or have already passed laws banning single-use plastic, you will notice almost all of them rely on their surrounding environment for a large part of their economy.”

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