City council adopted a policy stating that restaurants should distribute plastic straws only at the request of a customer.

Sometimes, doing the right thing for the Earth takes some extra inconvenience – like separating recyclables from other trash – or incurs extra costs – like buying organic food. But sometimes saving the environment also saves money. Saying ‘no’ to plastic straws is one of those happy win-win-win situations.

Currently, at many restaurants, if someone orders water or a soft drink, it often arrives at the table with a plastic straw already sticking out of the glass. Sometimes even refills arrive in a new glass with a new straw. And so, it is estimated that (prior to COVID), tens of thousands of plastic straws were used daily in the City of Newark alone. After their short use of an hour or less, they go into the trash, destined to spend hundreds of years in landfills or, worse, making their way into the environment.

Pieces of plastic straws have famously been found in the nostrils of sea turtles. Plastic pieces in the ocean are also frequently eaten by sea animals, from fish to birds. After a while in the waterways, plastic straws, like other plastics, break down into so-called “microplastics”, pieces that are so small that they are even ingested by shellfish, and small enough that they make it past water treatment plants and into our drinking water.

Some people have medical conditions that make it hard or impossible for them to enjoy their drink without a plastic straw. But the rest of us can choose to avoid the environmental pollution by simply drinking directly from the glass – like most of us do at home – or using a single-use paper straw or a reusable straw made from steel, bamboo, silicone or glass. These often come in a convenient little pouch to bring them to the restaurant and carry them home to stick into the dishwasher. Of course, we can only exercise that choice if our drink doesn’t arrive with a plastic straw in it already.

That’s why last month Newark’s City Council passed a resolution encouraging local restaurants to adopt a “straws upon request only” policy. Many local establishments have already adopted such a policy. Grain on Main Street was the first and found their straw usage plummet by 90 percent.

That’s good for the environment and the sea turtles. It’s good for our health because we don’t get the microplastics in our water or our seafood. And it’s good for the restaurant’s bottom line, since they can save the expense of purchasing the straws. Win-win-win.

Restaurants who would like to receive promotional materials for a “by request only” straw policy are asked to contact the City of Newark’s Conservation Advisory Commission.

The Conservation Advisory Commission was created in 1977 to advise the city of Newark in the development, management and protection of its natural resources, with appropriate consideration of Newark’s human and economic resources. It meets the second Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. in council chambers. The public is invited to attend and provide input. Commission members provide this monthly column to inform area residents on conservation issues.

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