How big of a difference can one straw make?
Many Island restaurants and eateries have joined a growing movement by offering environmentally friendly paper straws in an attempt to curb the use of plastic straws.
Richard Paradise, founder of the Martha’s Vineyard Film Society, which operates the Film Center, the Strand, and the Capawock movie theaters, told the Times each of his theaters gives out paper straws when customers purchase a soft drink.
The Film Society uses Aardvark straws, an American paper straw company based out of Indiana. Paradise discovered the brand in a cafe while on winter vacation in Costa Rica, and decided to start stocking them at the theaters back home.
“People at the movies appreciate the effort to reduce waste,” Paradise wrote in an email. The theater makes an effort to recycle all beverage containers and paper, he wrote. “At the Film Center, we don’t get asked for straws often — most patrons sip from a glass bottle.”
The theaters are not the only ones using Aardvark straws.
Morning Glory Farm has also joined the paper straw movement by completely removing plastic straws from its farm stand and implementing paper ones.
“I found Aardvark paper straws to be the most durable and sustainable. They are manufactured in the U.S.A., as well. We switched to paper straws because we are on an Island surrounded by the ocean, and we wanted to help lessen the problem of straws in the ocean. I think that paper straws are a good baby step to not needing a straw at all,” Meg Athearn said.
Athearn is a member of the Athearn family, the family that has run and operated the farm since 1975. The Athearns have wanted to eliminate all straws for the past two years, but found paper straws to be a middle ground with customers who enjoy a straw with their drinks. While the paper straws are more expensive for the farm, Athearn said, it’s OK with them.
One of the paper straws’ biggest criticisms is durability. “They’re good for the environment, but not that sturdy,” Sarah Felder, a frequent customer of Mocha Mott’s, said. Felder said she doesn’t mind, but the straws can get soggy if left in a drink too long, and bend too easily.
Traci Boyle and her daughter Amira traveled all the way from Portland, Ore., to vacation on the Island, and have been trying to use paper straws at home.
“It will take a little getting used to,” Boyle said of the straws, which she thinks are a good thing. “It’s a small adjustment.”
Other businesses on-Island that offer paper straws in lieu of plastic are Mocha Mott’s, the Black Dog, and Scottish Bakehouse. J.B. Blau, owner of Martha’s Vineyard Chowder Co., Copper Wok, Sharky’s, and the Loft, told the Times he switched to paper straws close to a year ago.
“It’s what’s happening, and we wanted to be early with it and help it become accepted out here,” Blau said. Like at Morning Glory, the cost of the paper straws is much higher than plastic, but Blau doesn’t mind swallowing the price because it’s good for the environment and costs are offset in other areas.
Stocking strictly paper straws can be tricky for some Island businesses, like Blissed Out in Vineyard Haven. The durability of the straws was of concern for the smoothie-making shop. Blissed Out offers compostable cups and spoons, and may give customers a choice between paper and plastic straws in the future, but for now is exploring other options to be environmentally friendly.
Jill Talladay, executive director of CARE Cape and Islands, a travelers’ philanthropy initiative that promotes the protection of the Cape and Islands environment, has been working with Straw Free MV, a group of students-turned-activists from the West Tisbury School, to educate the public and business owners on the harm plastic straws can cause, and how they can help fight it. Straw Free asks businesses to not put a straw in a customer’s glass by default, and instead wait until a customer requests a straw.
Paper straws are not just an Island movement. On July 1, Seattle became the first major U.S. city to ban plastic straws, among other food-serving and -packing materials. Seattle-based coffee company Starbucks will follow suit, announcing on July 9 that it will ban plastic straws in all of its stores globally by 2020.
Whether it’s using paper straws, banning plastic ones, or not using straws at all, a larger movement to reduce harmful waste like plastic is spreading and gaining traction on the Island and beyond.