Thunder Bay

Thunder Bay based campaign encourages residents to stop drinking their beverages through plastic straws

Stop sucking. That’s what some Thunder Bay bars and restaurants are encouraging their customers to do when at their businesses. As many about seven restaurants have signed up with Straws Suck Thunder Bay to vow to stop offering plastic drinking straws.

Hold the straw, is what some people in Thunder Bay are saying about the one use plastic item

Stephen Slattery started the campaign Straws Suck Thunder Bay after noticing the amount of straws he was throwing out during his weekend bar shift at The Sovereign Room. (Jackie Mckay/ CBC )

Stop sucking drinks through straws. 

That's what some Thunder Bay bars and restaurants are encouraging their customers to do when at their businesses. As many as seven restaurants have signed up with Straws Suck Thunder Bay to vow to stop offering plastic drinking straws.

"Just noticing it and just coming to the realization that these things are kind of a relic from a more wasteful time when it's more about convenience and not worrying about the consequences," said Stephen Slattery,  the creator of Straws Suck Thunder Bay and a bartender at the The Sovereign Room. "That logic didn't stick with me. I couldn't be in good faith using single straws for every drink and people just throw them on the ground."

The Sovereign Room was one of the first places in Thunder Bay to stop offering plastic drinking straws and have implemented an "ask policy" where they can offer a paper straw.  

The elimination of plastic drinking straws is part of a global trend. A viral video of a plastic straw being pulled from a turtles nostril sparked outrage in 2015 and kicked off many campaigns. Places like Tofino, B.C. had their own straws suck campaign held by The Pacific Rim chapter of the Surfrider Foundation. About 40 business said they would stop offering the item and the town tried to place a municipal bylaw to ban plastic drinking straws. That move was ultimately rejected by council.

The city of Seattle created an ordinance on plastic items such as straws and take-out utensils in 2008. That will come into effect July 2018, according to The Seattle Times. The United States National Parks Services website says that 500 million straws are used a day in America. Which they say is enough to fill 125 school busses.

"It's a consumer driven process to have straws in the first place," said Shannon Costigan,program coordinator for EcoSuperior environmental programs. "We want the public to be aware of the negative impact of these straws and ask for them to be eliminated."

EcoSuperior and Straws Suck Thunder Bay have teamed up to host an event called "The Last Straw" Monday night  (Nov. 20) at The Chanterelle. The event is to encourage people to stop using the product by providing information on the environmental impacts of one use plastic products. 

EcoSuperior has received funding to provide restaurants and bars with alternatives like paper, glass, steel and bamboo straws as part of a pilot project. They will be surveying to see what products are preferred by business so they can do a possible bulk buy of products.

"We understand that plastic is in use in a lot of places because it's the cheapest option for people," said Costigan.

EcoSuperior wants to eliminate the cost barrier and do the research for business to make switching to eco-friendly products as easy as possible.They will also look at options for takeout containers.

How much plastic is in Lake Superior? 

Thunder Bay's shoreline has the highest concentration of microplastic in Lake Superior, according to Kara Cox, who is studying microplastic in Lake Superior as part of her Masters research at the University of Waterloo.

Most water samples collected by Cox ranged from 10,000 to 20,000 particles of microplastic per square kilometer but samples collected from Thunder Bay were over 100,000 particles per square kilometer.

"The amount is surprising," said Cox.

Other large cities, like Duluth, Minn., on the shores of Lake Superior had significantly lower levels of plastic. Cox said it's possible that something else is going on in he lake, like currents patterns to cause such a high concentration of micro-plastic in Thunder Bay.

Microplastic are tiny pieces of plastic that are so small they can't be filtered out by water treatment systems. When plastic garbage like straws, plastic bags, takeout containers end up as litter on the land they are broken down by sunlight into tiny pieces and end up in the water. Animals drink the water and the plastic is often incorporated into their tissues which is passed on to humans when we eat them. We also ingesting microplastic through our drinking water.

"They [plastic] have this tendency to attract other chemical pollutants that are in the water and they accumulate them," said Cox. "They can have their own chemicals and accumulate all these other chemicals that can be carcinogenic."

Cox said the best way to reduce microplastic in Lake Superior is by eliminating one use plastic items altogether. If Thunder Bay stops using plastic drinking straws there won't be a significant impact on the reduction of microplastic in Lake Superior but if surrounding cities also joined in the impact would be greater.

"Less plastic is less plastic, so yes, if Thunder Bay does it [eliminate straws] that's fantastic," said Cox.

Cox will be speaking at the event Monday and the movie Straws will be shown to help teach people about the environmental impacts.