reusable straws in front of sarasota bay
Local restaurants are getting creative looking for alternatives to single-use plastic straws.

More Local Restaurants are Skipping Plastic Straws

Sarasota area restaurants offer up alternatives to the standard plastic straw to help protect the local environment

April 20, 2021

Millions of plastic straws are used every day in the United States. Generally not able to be recycled, they can wind up littering our beaches and local waterways. In fact, they’re usually among the top items collected during beach cleanups around the world.

When straws get into the water, they’re often ingested in some way by animals and birds. Sometimes animals consume them whole (a well-known video of a sea turtle with a straw stuck in its nose got a lot of attention a few years ago), and other times they’re eaten after they’ve broken down into microplastics, or tiny plastic particles that never really decompose completely.

Locals Get Organized

It’s a problem that’s not going away on its own, which is why Sarasota-based Rethinking Plastic was founded to tackle the issue of single-use plastics. Straws were an easy place to start.

Straws are one of those common food-related items that are “used for an average of 12 minutes and then tossed away,” says Cat Dillard, cofounder of Rethinking Plastic. “Some people think they go away, but they don’t. They sit around forever.”

Rethinking Plastic started its efforts with a “Skip the Straw” campaign that got good response from local restaurants. “I’m proud to say that Gecko’s Hospitality Group was one of the first in our area to join the Rethinking Plastic/Suncoast Skip the Straw movement,” says Anne K. Rollings, a spokesperson for Gecko’s Hospitality Group. “And our commitment has expanded from there.”

Restaurants Take Action

Gecko’s Hospitality Group – which includes six area locations of Gecko’s Grill & Pub plus Dry Dock Waterfront Grill, Dockside Waterfront Grill and Tripletail Seafood & Spirits – uses Phade straws that are made from a material derived from canola oil that’s marine and soil biodegradable. Straws are only given out upon request.

All Mattison’s restaurants – which include Mattison’s City Grille and Mattison’s Forty-One, both in Sarasota – also use Phade straws and only hand them out when requested. “Phade straws are a perfect fit for Mattison’s and support the mission of owner and executive chef Paul Mattison to be environmentally conscious,” says Caryn V. Hodge, marketing director for Mattison’s Restaurants and Catering. That philosophy is also reflected in the ingredients Mattison uses for his menus and the providers and small family farms he works with when purchasing ingredients.

Other local restaurants also only give out eco-friendly straws upon request, like Sharky’s on the Pier, Fins at Sharky’s, Snook Haven and Old Salty Dog. Restaurants are constantly on the lookout for cost-effective solutions that are both environmentally sensitive and customer friendly.

“We were using a paper straw but like many other places had issues with them falling apart in drinks,” says Josh Shear, manager of Old Salty Dog’s City Island location. “We have started experimenting with a renewable eco-friendly product that uses corn (PLA).”

Local Government

The City of Sarasota’s straw ordinance, which went into effect in 2020, prohibits the distribution and use of single-use straws and expanded polystyrene on city-owned land, which includes at sidewalk cafes, special events and concession/food service leases/licenses with the City. Single-use drinking straws can still be available for people who request them (including those with medical needs).

The ordinance goes into effect for leaseholders when a lease is up for renewal or a new lease is entered into. The new Lido Island Grill at Lido Beach was the first food service lease or license affected by the ordinance. But the ordinance is already in effect at restaurants with sidewalk cafe permits in the City of Sarasota, such as Duval’s Fresh Local Seafood, Speaks Clam Bar St. Armands, Daiquiri Deck St. Armands, Columbia Restaurant, Cha Cha Coconuts, Crab & Fin, Evie’s Tavern on Main Street, Tommy Bahama Restaurant and Bar, Patrick’s 1481, C’est la Vie, Brick’s Smoked Meats and Selva Grill.

Pizza and craft beer joint Oak & Stone, which has two Sarasota locations, has tried both paper and agave straws that are only handed out upon request. The restaurant is also using eco-friendly to-go containers.

Polystyrene and plastic to-go containers are one of the items on Rethinking Plastic’s “BADFive” list, along with straws, cups and lids; plastic bottles and bags; and plastic cutlery. The group’s also working with local restaurants on its “Cut the Cutlery” effort, which hopes to encourage restaurants to give customers a choice to opt out of receiving plastic silverware with to-go orders.

“I think so many people are interested in what they can do just knowing how their choices affect our climate and the environment,” says Jana Hoefling, cofounder of Rethinking Plastic. “It’s important for people to realize that plastic is just a huge design flaw. You can’t create something that is meant to be used temporarily out of a product that lasts forever. It just doesn’t work, which is why our tagline is recycling is not enough. Straws were a great way to get people’s attention; now we have to pivot to more education on alternatives going forward for more than just straws.”

If you want to learn more about Rethinking Plastic’s efforts to curb single-use plastic, visit the organization’s website at rethinkingplastic.org. 

Are you a Sarasota County restaurant that has stopped using straws or only hands them out upon request? Let us know and we’ll add you to this story! Contact us at [email protected] and be sure to use the subject line “Straws” in your email.

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