RI groups seek to eliminate plastic straws at local businesses

(WJAR)

A small Rhode Island city is making a big effort to help the environment.

A group in Newport is encouraging bars, restaurants and businesses to stop serving plastic straws.

It’s part of a campaign called “Strawless by the Sea.”

“Small steps multiplied around the town add up to a big impact and I'm happy to do that,” said Jeremie Callaghan, owner of Fluke Newport.

Callaghan and her staff have switched to using reusable, metal straws to substitute for some 400 plastic straws used at her restaurant each month. They’re one of 18 bars, restaurants and businesses in Newport trying to cut down on plastic waste.

“We have a lot of wonderful outdoor eating areas and bars here in Newport, which is fantastic, but on windy days, there's often times cups and straws can blow into the water,” said Kara DiCamillo OF Green Drinks Newport.

“Americans use 500 million plastic straws a day here in the U.S. That's enough to encircle the globe two-and-a-half times,” she added.

So far, participating bars, restaurants and marinas have cut out about 10,000 straws per month. Owners said it’s a low-cost way to help the environment.

“Being behind the bar, I see firsthand how much single-use plastics are wasted in a given service,” said bartender Tyler Bernadyn. “You multiply that by 365 days, 80 plus restaurants and bars in Newport, it adds up.”

Some areas like Newport Harbor already have ways of trapping debris to help keep the water clean. It’s something many say is a work in progress.

“Over the last 12 years, we've removed 16,000 pounds of marine debris from the shorelines of Aquidneck Island and Jamestown, as well,” said Dave McLaughlin, who is the executive director of Clean Ocean Access.

Some hotels and restaurants, such as The Hotel Viking, have cut out serving about 4,000 plastic straws per month. Drinks there are served without straws, but customers who prefer the plastic can still ask to have one if their drink.

Restaurant owners acknowledge it's a tough change for some.

“Once we tell them the reasoning, that it's for the environment and it's for a good cause, people get it,” said Brett Nicolopoulos, who is Hotel Viking’s Food and Beverage director. “They almost feel bad asking for a straw afterwards.”

It’s an affordable effort many hope will have a big payoff in the years to come.

“The same campaign is happening the world over and they're really happy to know that a small city like Newport is also taking note and doing their part,” Callaghan said.

Meanwhile, the Rhode Island Hospitality Association is spearheading the #AskFirstRI campaign, which encourages businesses to only provide plastic straws to customers upon request.

“We recycle so many different elements in food service,” Dale J. Venturini, who is the presidents and CEO of RIHA. From paper and plastic, to bottles and cans, to food scraps and even cooking oil, our members are always recycling to help minimize their environmental impact. By taking the #AksFirstRI pledge, they will eliminate the use of hundreds of thousands of straws annually and cut back on needless waste, which will lessen the impact on our oceans and environment.”

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