Op-Ed: Ann Arbor restaurants, stop providing plastic straws

Monday, April 16, 2018 - 5:15pm

Sometimes, the largest environmental issues stem from the smallest objects. In the ocean and the Great Lakes, plastic is a large concern for the well-being of wildlife. It is very common for litter to be dumped and transported into these large bodies of water via wind, streams and rivers that empty into oceans or lakes. Forty percent of the ocean’s surface contains some form of plastic debris.

In the state of Michigan, we may not see the direct connection of our plastic litter to the oceans, but our plastic consumption assuredly had an impact on the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes provide water, food and economic viability for the states and nations that border them. Contaminating these unique freshwater resources is a great mistake. To minimize the amount of plastic that enters our lake system, people should eliminate single-use plastics.

It is estimated that, on average, the United States uses 500 million straws each day. But unlike other single-use plastics, straws cannot be recycled and therefore will be sitting in our landfills and beaches, or floating in the oceans injuring wildlife. One of the most common single-use plastics that negatively affects aquatic and marine ecosystems are straws. Many have seen the popular video shared on Facebook of the turtle with the straw up its nose. After learning all of this information, we formed our Stop the Straw Ann Arbor campaign.

Ann Arbor is a town that is well-recognized for its sustainable consciousness and expansive food scene, indicating it is a community with the resources to be conscious consumers. When straws are given out at restaurants, it is a social norm for customers to use them automatically. If restaurants eliminate their plastic straws and only give out alternatives upon request, there would be a decrease in the number of plastic straws ending up in our waters. In addition, restaurants will still be offering straws for those who need them for accessibility.

Here in Ann Arbor, there is currently one restaurant, Grizzly Peak Brewing Company, that calls itself a “No straw establishment” Its owners have set the path for many local restaurants by only providing paper straws by request on top of the many other sustainable initiatives they have taken on at their restaurant. Our Stop the Straw team is currently speaking with several other local restaurants that are planning on only giving out straws if requested and finding straws that are made of alternative materials. One restaurant we are working alongside, Frita Batidos, is running a test weekend using paper straws.

Our team is actively supporting and working alongside restaurants who are trying to change their straw policy, but we want to expand our work and provide more restaurants with our research on straw alternatives. We are calling on Ann Arbor restaurants that may serve drinks or beverages to join our movement to eliminate plastic straws. By eradicating single-use straws, Ann Arbor would be making a statement about its commitment to better the planet through this city’s popular restaurant scene, specifically by impacting the litter of plastic in our water and on beaches.

And we need the community’s help! Currently, we have a petition asking University students and Ann Arbor community members to show their support. We need your support to show more restaurants that the community wants this change. The Stop the Straw campaign members will be there for these restaurants as they make this change. Please sign our petition.

The Stop the Straw Ann Arbor campaign is by LSA junior Ellery Rosenzweig, Business sophomore Alex Wineman, LSA junior Lar Kopel, LSA senior Olivia Horwedel and LSA junior Allison Shuff.