Growing movement to eliminate plastic straws gets NYC restaurant support

A growing number of New York City restaurants and bars are ditching plastic straws and utensils for environmentally-friendly paper or reusable ones.
A growing number of New York City restaurants and bars are ditching plastic straws and utensils for environmentally-friendly paper or reusable ones. Photo Credit: STXfilms / Mark Schäfer

At the New York Aquarium’s new Oceanside Grill on the Coney Island boardwalk, you can get fish tacos, hamburgers and other tasty treats.

But plastic straws, forks and cups are not on the menu.

That’s because the Wildlife Conservation Society stopped using plastic straws and cold-drink lids at its parks and is in the process of phasing out single-use plastics.

The organization is now asking all New Yorkers to join that effort with a new campaign, “Give a Sip,” and pledge to stop using plastic straws.

“Plastic pollution is one of the primary conservation issues that are out there right now,” said Jon Forrest Dohlin, director of the New York Aquarium, which is part of WCS. “In terms of damaging wildlife, it’s almost unprecedented.”

Dohlin said plastics in the water can kill marine mammals and work their way into the food chain.

“It creates a situation that endangers human health as well as wildlife,” he said.

The movement to replace plastic straws with paper or reusable ones is gaining steam throughout the nation and around the globe.

The city of Malibu in California enacted a ban on plastic straws that takes effect June 1. Food and drink businesses in Seattle will have to stop offering plastic straws and utensils by July.

And government officials in England just announced this week a proposal to ban plastic straws, drink stirrers and cotton swabs.

Lea D’Auriol, founder of the nonprofit Oceanic Global Foundation, is helping lead efforts to reduce plastic use in New York.

“Every piece of plastic that has ever been created still exists in one form or another,” D’Auriol said. “Plastic is an amazing material but we are using it in a disposable way.”

Oceanic Global recently partnered with Zirkova Vodka to create the Oceanic Standard, a guide that helps bars and restaurants eliminate plastic straws and single-use plastics and implement other practices to make them more sustainable and environmentally friendly.

Freehold, a Williamsburg bar, restaurant, coffee shop and shared workspace, was one of the first to get involved. D’Auriol reached out to the owners about their plastic practices about a year ago while co-working at the space.

“I told them I love their venue but they were using way too many plastic straws,” said D’Auriol, who showed the owners a viral video of a sea turtle getting a plastic straw painfully removed from its nose.

She found a receptive audience.

“We calculated that we were going through about 1.5 million plastic straws per year at Freehold,” principal owner Brice Jones said.

Today, the venue is down to zero, using paper straws in place of plastic.

“It’s become an educational conversation piece between our bartenders, servers and our customers, and has really sparked a beautiful movement within the hospitality community that we hope to see continue to progress and expand,” Jones said.

So far, 35 New York City restaurants and bars that have pledged to ditch the plastic straws as part of the Oceanic Standard. Oceanic Global is also joining forces with WCS as part of its efforts to eliminate single-use plastics.

“I think New York City has the opportunity to be a leader on this issue,” D’Auriol said.

WCS officials said they have secured pledges from 41 partners to stop using plastic straws, including the Alliance for Coney Island, which represents businesses and amusements along the famous boardwalk and in the neighborhood, and the popular Financial District bar Dead Rabbit.

“We taste every cocktail we put out, so over the course of a night, a week, a year — the amount of straws I was seeing get tossed was immense,” said bartender Melissa Markert, who oversees the Dead Rabbit’s sustainability program.

Earlier this year, the bar switched to reusable metal straws for tasting cocktails and paper straws by request only for guests.

“The response has been great,” Markert said. “I constantly have guests commenting positively when they see our new straws.”

Will New York City follow in Malibu’s and Seattle’s footsteps? WCS officials said they would support legislation calling for a ban of single-use straws in NYC.

For now, Dohlin said it’s important for people to realize even little changes can make a big difference in reducing the amount of plastic that goes into the environment.

“We are simply waking people up to the idea that there are alternatives that don’t require huge sacrifices on our part,” he said.