The last straw for plastic straws in Delaware

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Kid Shelleen's is one of two dozen restaurants in Delaware that have adopted straws optional policies or banned plastic straws altogether.  (Shirley Min/WHYY)

Kid Shelleen's is one of two dozen restaurants in Delaware that have adopted straws optional policies or banned plastic straws altogether. (Shirley Min/WHYY)

The push to cut down on the number of single-use plastic straws used every day in the United States is gaining momentum nationwide and in Delaware.

More than two dozen restaurants in Delaware have adopted a “straws by request” policy or are banning them altogether in an effort to reduce plastic pollution and protect marine life.

“I’m not exactly sure how it happened, but over time restaurants have gotten in the habit of just putting a straw in basically all your beverages,” said Dee Durham, co-founder of Plastic Free Delaware. “We are just working to encourage restaurants to only give out straws by request and I think people can break the habit.”

A habit that’s winding up on Delaware’s beaches and in waterways. Every year, approximately 2,000 straws are collected in the state’s coastal cleanup.

Globally, Ocean Conservancy collected 409,087 straws and stirrers according to the environmental advocacy group’s 2017 international coastal cleanup report.

Nationwide, it’s estimated that Americans use 500 million plastic straws a day. On average, that boils down to every American using 1.6 straws a day.

“We’re trying to address the single-use plastic that has a short lifespan,” said Durham, whose grassroots organization is working with restaurateur Xavier Teixido to change people’s behavior away from the single-use straws.

Teixido owns two restaurants – Kid Shelleen’s in Wilmington and Harry’s Savoy Grill in North Wilmington. He implemented a straws optional policy in his restaurants a couple of months ago.

“I always thought it was odd because I don’t think people put a straw in to drink water at home … but then they would get a soda or water in a restaurant and the expectation was that there’s a straw,” said Teixido, who is looking into compostable straws for his guests who can’t go without.

Kid Shelleen’s and Harry’s are among the 24 restaurants in Delaware where straws are now optional, and the number continues to grow.

Last month, The Green Turtle announced that it was eliminating plastic straws in all 48 of its locations, which includes restaurants in Rehoboth Beach, Newark and north of Wilmington. The restaurant chain will provide biodegradable paper straws upon request.

“Environmentally, I think it’s really good to show both your staff and to demonstrate to your guests that you care about waste, you care about your community, you care about your environment,” Teixido said. “I think the more of us that do it, the more accepted a practice it is.”

Ever since a video of scientists rescuing a turtle with a straw lodged in its nose in Costa Rica went viral three years ago, the movement away from plastic straws has been gaining steam.

Plastic Free Delaware is hoping to use that momentum in their favor. That said, volunteer Tre Sullivan emphasized the group is not anti-plastic or anti-straw, but said using fewer straws is an easy place to start to help make Delaware cleaner.

“It’s baby steps. We’ve made this Earth a mess through baby steps through many respects and we’ve got to get it better by baby steps. If we can do bigger things, that’s great, but if we can all do our own, just to make a little bit of difference in terms of helping the environment for future generations, that’s huge,” Sullivan said.

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