I used to be almost apologetic when I asked, not wanting to bug the waiter or bartender with a special request or to make my friends uncomfortable — uncomfortable because behind the request is the story of that poor turtle and the crisis of plastic pollution… not exactly light dinner conversation. I’d say it anyway. I was glad I wasn’t personally contributing to plastic pollution that could potentially harm marine life, but I knew it was a lost cause as a one-person crusade.
Each day, 500 million plastic straws are discarded in the U.S. Plastic straws are one of the top 10 items picked up on International Coastal Cleanup Day. That may add up to a small percentage of the eight million tons of plastic dumped into the ocean each year, but plastic straws represent the worst of our throwaway society, where an unnecessary item has become ubiquitous, used for just a few minutes and discarded with utter thoughtlessness, convenience trumping consciousness and stewardship of the planet.
The crisis of plastic pollution can fill me with despair. Transition Pasadena has given me a way to channel that sense of helplessness into advocacy, strengthening my connection to the community and offering a way to “reimagine and rebuild our world,” starting at the local level. A few of us in Transition Pasadena leave information cards at local restaurants from the Last Plastic Straw project, which encourages serving straws only upon request, but I don’t know any that have changed their practices based on our suggestions. Our Eco Breakfast planning team decided to amp up our efforts by gathering for Eco Cocktails in the hopes we’d make a stronger case as a group.
Our first gathering was at Trejo’s in May. I contacted the manager beforehand to give her a heads up about our “no plastic straw” gathering. She was friendly but seemed disinterested in the campaign, a disinterest that played out with our waiter/bartender. Although we emphasized we all wanted our drinks without straws, he delivered our first round of cocktails with plastic straws. What?! We couldn’t believe it. I felt disheartened and expressed my dismay to him. At first he laughed it off, but then he apologized and shared something very telling: “It’s just so automatic for me to put straws in drinks, I don’t even think about it.” Precisely! He went on to say it would actually save him time if he didn’t have to add straws to every drink. Wouldn’t it make sense for the default to be to serve drinks without straws and only give them upon request?
Fortunately, restaurants around the world — in Bali, Belize, Baltimore, Malibu, Vancouver, B.C., and Hoedspruit, South Africa — are changing the way they serve plastic straws, some eliminating them entirely. In Pasadena, Seed Bakery and Sage Bistro both serve paper straws. Kudos to them for taking the initiative on their own.
Want to join us at future Eco Cocktail gatherings to help us nudge local restaurants to join the movement against plastic straws? Let us know, and we’ll add you to our mailing list. In the meantime, you can be part of the solution starting right now. Just say “no straw please” every time you order a drink.