Inspiration at the Local Level—Columbia, South Carolina
Starting small is the easiest way to extend a helping hand to those who are in need. The weight of the world’s problems can be overwhelming and intimidating. I suggest starting with yourself and your family. Backyard gardens, healthy eating and living, neighborhood initiatives to help people in need, all can feel like small steps. However, these seemingly small actions have a huge impact when you follow the human impact of the ripples. My neighbor, Joshua Streetman—bar manager of Motor Supply—helps reduce restaurant waste by pushing for the removal of plastic straws. Last weekend, Joshua Streetman and four other Columbia bartenders—Andy Haddock of Terra, Sebastian Griffin of Hendrix, Olando ‘Opie’ Patterson of Goats, and Justin Matthews of Mr. Friendly’s—switched to paper straws for the Columbia Food and Wine Festival in Five Points. From noon until 7:00pm on Sunday, April 28, 2019, their cocktail pop-up bar at this event pushed out over 4000 full size cocktails with very little footprint. After recycling, they removed two 30-gallon trash bags (of trash). This is very impressive for such a large event. I guess the next step would be to start a composting program to further reduce municipal waste. This is a subject that touches Josh and so many others in the industry.
We now know that plastic is one of the most destructive components that we discard. This fantastic article by Renee Cho was written in 2011 highlighting the Pacific Garbage Patch. Another great source about the Pacifica Garbage Patch comes from The Ocean CleanUp Team. These are big picture references to the damage that plastic does to our air, water, and soil.
Awareness and action are slowly taking place at the municipal level in cities across America. Seattle, WA, and other cities have started to ban plastic straws. Sarah Gibbon’s National Geographic article, “A brief history on how plastic straws took over the world,” is an interesting look at how we became hooked on the plastic straw. Strawless Ocean is an organization that advocates for the elimination of plastic straws and safe alternatives to plastic straws. Strawless is a fantastic leader in the movement against plastic pollution. The Strawless Ocean FAQ section illustrates the persistent nature of plastic, its destructive capabilities, and why it is so important to address this growing problem.
Plastic straws are really bad for the ocean. It’s estimated that we use over 500 million every day in America, and most of those end up in our oceans, polluting the water and killing marine life. We want to encourage people to stop using plastic straws for good. If we don’t act now, by the year 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.
AREN’T PLASTIC STRAWS RECYCLABLE?
Most plastic straws are too lightweight to make it through the mechanical recycling sorter. They drop through sorting screens and mix with other materials and are too small to separate, contaminating recycling loads or getting disposed as garbage.
HOW DO PLASTIC STRAWS GET INTO THE OCEAN?
Plastic straws end up in the ocean primarily through human error, often 1) left on beaches in coastal communities and seaside resorts globally 2) littered OR 3) blown out of trash cans (oftentimes overfilled) or transport boats and vehicles.
While some city's waste management infrastructure is sound (like Seattle, for instance), not all communities have the same level of accountability.
Remember, all gutters and storm drains lead to our ocean!
WHAT HAPPENS ONCE THEY’RE IN THE WATER?
When plastic does make it into the ocean it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces known as “microplastics” rather than biodegrading or dissolving, which poses great threats to marine life including fish.
It is projected that by 2050, 99% of all sea bird species will have ingested plastic. Mortality rate can be “up to” 50%. And, already, research has shown plastic in sea salt, 94% of U.S. tap water, and shellfish.
Scientists at the the UGA New Materials Institute conducted a new study which discovered microplastics particles smaller than dust or powdered sugar inside baby sea turtles. Of the turtle’s studies in this research, 100% were found to have eaten plastic. These baby sea turtles were likely dying due to ingested plastic pollution, which threatens the species’ survival.
WHAT IF PEOPLE NEED TO USE A STRAW, ARE THERE ALTERNATIVES?
Yes, some people need a straw! Anyone who has had a stroke, has autism, MS or other life changing physical issue needs a straw and often a compostable plastic straw works best. We have those available, if in need.
In some cases, the use of standard or compostable plastic straws are best to fulfill our shared need to drink liquids.
WHAT ABOUT COMPOSTABLE PLASTIC STRAWS?
While compostable plastic straws are good in theory, they can be disposed of incorrectly by individuals when there is a lack of information on public composting depositories.
Compostable plastic straws are no better than regular plastic straws when they get into the marine environment. They are designed to break down in compost facility conditions, not sea water. That is why we support the switch to paper straws, not compostable plastic straws.
WHY FOCUS ON PLASTIC STRAWS?
We already know that plastic bags and soda can rings are bad for the environment and end up in the ocean. Few people realize that straws are among the top 10 items found during beach clean ups and can do so much harm to seabirds, turtles and other marine creatures.
WHERE CAN I FIND ALTERNATIVES?
Learn about alternatives For A Strawless Ocean here!
Within the restaurant industry, the switch from plastic to paper straws and/or reduction in straw use can, at times, be a hard sell to management or ownership. But when you look at the breakdown of the cost of purchasing and disposal of plastic straws, combined with the maintenance of sinks, dishwashers, and plumbing when plastic straws clog sinks and plumbing lines, plastic straws have a rather large, and negative, footprint. Those are just a few of the undesirable affects plastic straws can have on a specific restaurant.
Individuals, like Mr. Streetman, took a stand and have become a voice for the removal of plastic straws in Columbia, SC restaurants. It started small, with the actions of just a few individuals. Mr. Streetman and others like him can be an inspiration to us all. Sometimes, it really can be that easy.
As consumers, we can help in the fight against the scourge of the plastic straw. We can request no straw, especially when we know we will just throw it away. Practical decisions and careful consideration can be the easiest way to contribute to a happier and healthier planet. Finding inspiration can seem hard, but I find it in the smallest ways, my children, my wife, my parents, and my in-laws. I find stories in the simplest acts of kindness. Even with the limited resources that my wife and I have at our disposal, we now make a more conscious effort to waste less and give more. These have also been valuable teaching moments and tools for our 5-year-old daughter and my 15-year-old son. Small things that we have incorporated into our household, all of which have required very little effort on our part, include discontinuing or at least drastically reducing the use of plastic grocery bags; reusing plastic grocery bags when we end up with them; smarter recycling (which could be its own blog entry); cooking more and increasing our mindfulness to reduce the processed foods we eat; more attention to the ingredients in foods we buy; donating clothes, toys, and other items that we can no longer use instead of throwing them away; seeking out second-hand items for our needs first before immediately thinking of buying something new.
Next time you’re at the beach or on vacation in a beautiful Caribbean island or on the coast of Mexico, look at what is washing up on shore (lots of plastic). Or the next time you’re sitting down at a restaurant and you order a drink, tell your server or bartender no straw please, or ask if they have a compostable, paper, or alternative to a plastic straw.
It may take time, but with the combined efforts of consumers and individuals in the food industry, change will happen. Let’s continue to applaud those who do the little things that move us toward economic and ecological sustainability in the food industry. Joshua Streetman and all those who continue to contribute to reducing their environmental impact help create an ethical and sustainable industry. Caring seems to be the first step. Look around your life, see what could use some attention. Finding inspiration in others can help you find it within yourself to make good ideas become a reality. Start small and the rest will start to fall into place.