Waterloo region eateries slowly ditching plastic straws

Some local restaurants have initiated restrictions on plastic straws, while others are reviewing how they use them.

Charcoal Group, Cambridge Hotel among places reviewing use of plastic straws, Andrew Coppolino says

Several restaurants in Kitchener-Waterloo are getting rid of plastic straws and offering customers more sustainable options. (Roger Corriveau/CBC)

Across North America, there are movements afoot to ban single-use straws and other plastic utensils in the food industry. Processes to reduce the use of plastic are underway in jurisdictions in Seattle, San Francisco, Vancouver and nearby in Guelph.

But some local restaurants have already taken the bull by the horns and initiated their own restrictions.

In Waterloo Region, one restaurant group eliminated plastic straws two years ago.

Jody Palubiski of The Charcoal Group said a staff member brought the issue forward, and the company, which includes The Charcoal Steak House, Wildcraft, The Bauer Kitchen and Beertown, took action.

"We saw some evidence that made us think twice that we were assuming that customers wanted straws. We started a discussion and decided to change our policy and provide them only if requested. Customers have understood, and it's a moment of realization for them when it comes to waste," Palubiski said.

Meanwhile, Kitchener's Public Kitchen and Bar has funky-coloured bendable straws that are biodegradable, according to co-owner Carly Blasutti.

"We use paper straws now. After watching a plastic straw get pulled out of a sea turtle's nose, that was it for me. We found a supplier that sells them at a reasonable price," Blasutti said.

Environmental concerns played a role in Grand Trunk Saloon's straw policy decision as they prepare to open their new Grand Surf lounge, too.

"We are trying to reduce our waste and reduce our footprint, be as close to zero waste as we can get. The vast majority of our disposable items are biodegradable or compostable," said chef Jason Hanoski.

At the Cambridge Hotel, part of an organization that also operates the restaurant in Kitchener's THEMUSEUM as well as a large catering company, executive chef Aaron Clyne said that the businesses will likely go without straws in the future – or with different kinds of straws.

"We are looking into it. We'll probably go with paper, but we are also exploring metal straws too," Clyne said.

The Fat Sparrow Group, which operates, Marbles and Taco Farm, has been examining alternatives and new straw "policy," if such a thing can be said to exist, ahead of any likely bans or restrictions in the future, according to owner Nick Benninger.

"We are in transition currently," Benninger said. "We only give straws when the customer requests one for now. We will have compostable straws soon, and they should be in our inventory in the next couple of weeks."

The alternatives to plastic straws seem simple enough: there are biodegradable bio-plastics that break down in as few as 45 days, and there are paper straws too.

The increased cost could be a factor for food outlets (some straw alternatives can be as much as 35 per cent more expensive), and some issues exist where recyclable utensils and bowls cannot withstand the heat of the food or beverage.

There is another issue: one of accessibility for people with disabilities who wish to visit a restaurant, whether that is fast-food or fine dining. Paper straws need to be durable enough to do the job for a diner who struggles with mobility or manual dexterity. For many, including people who have difficulty swallowing for medical reasons, a sturdy straw that is bendable is the only way they can drink by themselves.

For that reason alone, good straws are necessary – as they are for kids and, really, anyone who prefers to drink with a straw.

To do your part, simply ask that a straw not be brought to the table with your drink: that's the first line of defence against a piece of plastic garbage heading -- unused – to the landfill.

Vancouver's city council voted to bring in a distribution ban on plastic straws in May. Guelph is now looking at options to limit the use of single-use plastics. (Darren Staples/Reuters)