Life / Food

Canadian restaurateurs and consumers say "straws suck"

The humble plastic drinking straw is an environmental villain

Dakota Tavern owner owner Shawn Creamer is part of a global movement for ditching drinking straws.

Eduardo Lima/Metro

Dakota Tavern owner owner Shawn Creamer is part of a global movement for ditching drinking straws.

Shawn Creamer, co-owner of Toronto’s Dakota Tavern, has reached his last straw.
 
In May, the bar and brunch spot, as well as its sister restaurant, the Hayloft Dancehall in Prince Edward County, Ont., stopped offering plastic drinking straws.
 
The move was spearheaded by his colleague and Hayloft co-owner Trish Cook, who got the idea from a bar she visited in San Francisco.
 
They’re part of a growing global movement of bars, restaurants and consumers eschewing straws as an unnecessary environmental blight.
 
Even straws that are disposed of properly can end up in waterways and oceans. Being small and light, they blow around easily, and plastic takes centuries to break down.

For elderly people and those with dental or mobility challenges, straws are essential. But most of us don’t need or even want one, Creamer said.
 
So he had a friend design a poster with the slogan “straws suck” and hung it in the bar.  
And then, “the most interesting thing happened,” he said. “No one cared.”  
 
They haven’t had a single complaint, and “maybe one person every four weeks” requests a straw. “When we count out how many thousands of straws we were giving people, what a huge difference that makes,” Creamer said.  
 
The idea is catching on across the country.
 
Last year, 41 businesses in Tofino, B.C., voluntarily ditched plastic straws and committed to offering paper ones only upon request.
 
The move came after a campaign from the Pacific Rim chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, an environmental action group.
 
Straws were an “easy target” in the seaside town that welcomes tens of thousands of tourists each day, said Michelle Hall, the chapter’s chair.
 
“You’d get the most basic drink of all, glass of water, and in it would be a plastic straw,” she said. “We don’t need them.”  
 
One Tofino resort alone was going through 12,000 straws a year, Hall said. That’s been reduced to practically zero.
 
“I’m at pretty much every single beach cleanup. There are no straws. It’s pretty awesome,” Hall said.
 
According to the U.S. National Park Service, Americans use 500 million plastic drinking straws each day. Assuming the same rate in Canada — 1.6 straws per person per day — Canadians throw out something like 57 million straws every 24 hours.
 
Most major cities — Toronto, Calgary, Ottawa and Vancouver among them — do not accept plastic straws in municipal recycling.
 
Numerous NGOs and individuals are using a bit of mild social-media shaming to great effect, with anti-straw memes and hashtags like #refusethestraw, #nostrawplease, #lastplasticstraw and #strawssuck.
 
Plastic water bottles, disposable coffee cups, coffee pods and grocery bags have all had their moment in environmentalists’ crosshairs.
 
But the straw that broke the reputation of drinking straws specifically was likely a grisly viral video from 2015. In it, Texas A&M University biologist Christine Figgener and her team extract a plastic straw from the nostril of a squirming, squalling Costa Rican sea turtle.
 
“All single-use plastics are bad for the environment … but if we classify the usefulness and necessity of each, then we can see that straws are probably on the top of the list of totally unnecessary objects,” Figgener said in an email to Metro.
 
(Warning: The video contains coarse language). 
 
“In addition, smaller plastic objects are (easily) eaten by sea life. They just pick it up with their regular meal and it either ends up in their digestive tract or, in the case of sea turtles, also in the nasal cavities when they expel the water they swallow with their food.”

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