A local campaign wants folks to just say no to the straw.
If a straw is needed, chuck the plastic and go with the paper.
That is the mission behind an effort to see the plastic straw go bye-bye to benefit the environment and to do so while assisting the Florida Coastal Conservancy’s efforts to create a Sea Turtle Center.
Several local establishments have already contracted to be customers in special “Turtle” paper straws and the number is growing.
Meanwhile, a percentage of the money from those contracts is being donated to the FLCC, which is creating coasters and table tents to promote the drive to cut the straws.
Nancy Jones, who moved to Gulf County last year, toggled the idea about in her head one night while out to dinner.
She noticed not only the prevalence of plastic straws, but how automatic their use seems to be: the wait staff was putting them in the drinks before the drinks had reached tables in some cases.
“We love to eat out and everything is plastic straws,” Jones said. “Even with takeout, all your utensils are plastic and the containers are plastic.”
With a background in environmental work in Atlanta, Jones reached out to some of what she called “plastic pollution” buddies and discovered through her network, Aardvark, a Fort Wayne, IN manufacturer of sturdy paper straws.
Jones and her partner entered into an agreement to become the regional distributor of those straws, which in the case of the Forgotten Coast come decorated with green turtles.
Another customer of Aardvark is Ted Turner, who has been using the paper straws in his Montana-based restaurants for a decade, Jones said.
“They were already making them and I just wanted to do something good in the world,” Jones said. “And we are kicking back a percentage of the profits to the Sea Turtle Center.”
That, of course, was a perfect fit for the FLCC, the non-profit arm of the St. Joseph Peninsula Turtle Patrol.
“It’s not just the plastic, it’s the (goal) to reduce the use of straws,” said Jessica Swindall, volunteer coordinator for the St. Joseph Peninsula Turtle Patrol.
“There is a (2015 YouTube) video that went viral of a turtle with a plastic straw up its nose and in its head. It is the poster child for plastic use and the oceans in general.”
In fact, the move against plastics is worldwide and growing.
Great Britain is considering a complete ban on plastic straws while Vancouver has banned them along with Scotland and Thailand.
Hawaii and New York City are considering bans and Bon Appetit Management, a food service company with more than 1,000 locations across the country is phasing out plastic straws in favor of more eco-friendly alternatives.
The numbers are staggering: 500 million plastic straws are used each day in the United States, 1.6 per person per day.
Bon Appetit Management ordered 16.8 million for the fiscal year which ended in August 2017,
And the anti-plastic movement is not just about straws, as scientists have estimated that by the year 2050 there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish.
A manufacturer is close to bringing to market rings for beverage six-packs, Coke, beer, which is biodegradable and actually edible for sea life.
“We can be at the beginning of a movement,” Jones said of the paper straws. “It’s a big kind of mind change, a change in the way restaurants do business.”
Already, the Haughty Heron in Port St. Joe and several establishments in Franklin County, including The Owl and Blue Parrot, are customers.
“Those early adopters, that is huge,” Swindall said. “These are really big establishments leading the way.”
The FLCC has created coasters and table tents for restaurants encouraging customers to think twice before requesting a straw, but if one is needed, make it paper.
The straw initiative dovetails with two other upcoming local events.
Later this month, The Joe Center for the Arts will host its latest exhibit, “Turtles and Trash” which will include presentations from academics and companies from Florida and Mississippi.
That exhibit segues into the Forgotten Coast Sea Turtle Festival which will arrive at George Core Park the first week of July.
“We do what we can here. You do what you can in your own backyard,” Swindall said.