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Should Restaurants Get Rid of Single-Use Plastic Straws?

The plastic straw debate really heated up in 2018, and a year later, conscious consumers on social media are still clamoring for more Eco-friendly options to single-use straws. There are many facets to this debate, including implications for people with disabilities, the viability of alternative options, and the larger debate around consumption in the first place. So what can a restaurant do to keep all of their customers happy? A little compromise is all it takes.

Plastics have an important place in our modern world. The controversial, non-biodegradable material is an absolute necessity for some items that require sanitary conditions, such as transported food and medical supplies. On the other hand, these items stay in the environment forever, and so far there haven't been great solutions for dealing with the leftover waste. So as with all things, it seems that moderation is probably the best approach. Ice cream and french fries aren't the healthiest food options (not to mention the environmental impact of livestock and agriculture), but having a scoop of vanilla or a basket of fries now and then isn't going to hurt you, and certainly no one is proposing that we ban ice cream and french fries to protect public health. The point is that production follows demand; it's up to individual consumers, households and businesses to reduce their use of single-use materials, and seek out environmentally friendly alternatives when they can.

A lot of companies, such as Starbucks, and municipalities such as Seattle have proposed outright bans on single-use plastic straws in businesses. While that may seem like a progressive step in the right direction, the truth is that some people with disabilities rely on straws, and alternatives such as silicon or stainless steel are not always appropriate or sanitary. So rather than banning straws outright, a better solution might be to only offer them on request. That way the default option will be a bit more environmentally friendly (bring your own coffee mug!), but will leave straws available to those who need them. Just like it's up to individuals to control their ice cream intake, it's up to individuals to make the choice to forgo a plastic straw if they don't actually need one.

So what is a restaurateur to do? Our best advice is to keep the plastic straws around for those who truly need them, but only offer them on request. That way you can reduce the amount of waste your business produces, while still making sure to have options for customers who truly need them. And while you're at it, consider all the other ways you can reduce the environmental impact of your business, from reducing food waste to composting.