November 18, 2019
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Maine restaurants turn to corn straws to reduce plastic use

Shawn P. Sullivan | York County Coast Star
Shawn P. Sullivan | York County Coast Star
Annie Meub, right, manager of The Bitter End in Wells, sits with Chef Richard Ellis at the eatery using straws made from corn.

If you go to The Bitter End on Route 1 in Wells and ask for a straw with your drink, you’ll get one — but not the plastic kind you’ve been sipping from for years.

The eatery, which serves contemporary American food, offers straws made of biodegradable paper. Its cocktail straws are made from corn.

“They look and feel like plastic, but they’re 100-percent corn,” said Annie Mueb, the general manager of the restaurant, which is owned by Peter and Katie Morency.

[Whales keep eating plastic and dying. This one had 88 pounds of trash in its stomach]

The Bitter End has been offering non-plastic straws – as well as other eco-friendly measures, such as cloth napkins and glasses of water only by request – since it opened at the end of last May, according to Meub. Pedro’s in Kennebunk, a sister restaurant to The Bitter End, also takes the same approach.

“It’s a really easy fix, a small thing we can do to make an impact on the world,” Meub said.

The Bitter End is one example of several local restaurants that the Planeteers of Southern Maine is applauding as part of its ongoing “Skip the Straw” campaign. Other eateries that are forgoing plastic straws include Batson River Tasting Room, The Boathouse, The Colony Hotel, Old Vines, the Spirit of Massachusetts, and Domino’s Pizza, according to Andrea Rothkimmich, a cofounder of the Planeteers.

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The Planeteers of Southern Maine is based in Kennebunk and serves that community, Kennebunkport, and Arundel but also extends its reach beyond those borders. The organization has a steering committee of seven members and others who are involved in such issues as beach erosion and debris monitoring and take part in environmental talks and organize local Earth Day celebrations.

The Planeteers’ “Skip the Straw” efforts are in step with its overall “Choose to Refuse” campaign that it launched during its Earth Day celebration last year, according to Rothkimmich. The organization first started with a focus on eliminating local use of single-use water bottles and eventually set its sights on curbing the availability of plastic straws, as well.

[Hundreds of Maine students leave schools to rally over climate change]

In a press release, the Planeteers said that the reason for their “Skip the Straw” campaign is clear.

“We feel compelled by the images that captivated us online of the sea turtle plagued by a straw up its nose and the piles of plastic on beaches around the world,” the organization said. “The Planeteers, along with many of you, regularly clean our local shorelines of debris, knowing that the likelihood of even one straw may maim wild life.”

[Starbucks will stop handing out plastic straws]

In addition to asking restaurants to refrain from offering straws, the organization also plans to advocate for the bulk pricing of alternatives to plastics and seek ways to establish easier means of composting.

In an interview, Rothkimmich called straws a type of “gateway plastic.” She added that most straws are made of plastic that is not recyclable and that gum up the works at recycling facilities. Straws also are often among the litter that so easily can find their way into local water, Rothkimmich added.

“We live in a community chock full of restaurants right on the ocean, and it takes only one gust of wind to blow that lightweight straw into it,” she said.

[New England man makes surfboard out of 700 foam Dunkin’ coffee cups]

The Planeteers started visiting local restaurants in October, reaching 30 at first, in the hope of persuading them to eliminate plastic straws from their stock. The group resumed its efforts with other restaurants in January and in the end hopes to reach all 101 establishments on its list, according to Rothkimmich.

The Planeteers will issue a report with an exhibit at its Earth Day celebration at the Wells Reserve at Laudholm Farm on April 19. The report and exhibit will chart the success of the organization’s campaign and will highlight the “best practices” in the area.

“Our success is entirely reliant on the extent to which the restaurateurs recognize plastics and, especially, straws, as a peril, and commit to changing it up,” Rothkimmich said.

[Waterville council certifies plastic bag ban vote despite opposition]

More than 75 percent of the establishments that the organization has approached so far have pledged to “Skip the Straw,” now through Earth Day, Rothkimmich added.

“This affords them a trial period in which to assess actual demand and determine which alternatives, if any, might work for them, recognizing too that rarely is a straw truly needed,” Rothkimmich said. “Switching from plastic is more costly, but that difference could be made up if they are only seldom issued, whether (as) paper, metal, or bamboo.”

Rothkimmich said she and her fellow Planeteers are aware that some restaurant patrons might push back against any changes, against the idea that they would not be able to get a plastic straw if they want one. She has answers for any reservations that Planeteers and restaurant managers and owners might encounter. For example:

What about those with disabilities who need straws?

[York starts down path toward possible polystyrene ban]

“I’m pretty sure those with disabilities (have their own straw) and would have it with them when going out to a restaurant,” Rothkimmich said.

What if a patron does not trust that the glasses in which their drinks are served are clean?

“Really?” Rothkimmich said. “But you’re choosing to eat here? Notice too that no one expects straws in beer steins, coffee mugs … those are somehow clean?”

To those who say the elimination of straws leads to “less and less service,” Rothkimmich says, “How often do you serve a straw at home?” To those who say, “It’s just a straw,” Rothkimmich responds that if you have eight billion people saying that, then it’s no longer “just a straw.”

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“As they move away from plastics, restaurateurs are rightfully concerned about the added price of doing business,” Rothkimmich said. “They shouldn’t have to be the ones carrying this brunt. They’re not the ones asking for straws — those asking for straws should be the ones paying.”

Rothkimmich said her advice to restaurant owners is not to hand out any straws — and, if necessary, instead have a lidded container with bamboo, metal, glass, hay, and paper straws to sell.

“Let’s see how much anyone feels they need or want a straw,” she said. “And, if so, everyone will be happy. The restaurant’s not out of money, and the person opting for a straw has it for a lifetime.”

 



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