The campaign against single-use plastic straws continues to gain traction across Australia as an increasing number of venues boost their commitment to sustainability. Here, we find out why venues are getting behind the movement and the challenges they’ve faced along the way.
Why the plastic straw?
Billions of single-use plastic straws end up on Australian beaches, waterways and landfill every year, due to inability to be correctly processed through recycling facilities and the reality that people simply don’t put them in the bin.
Thanks to increased media attention, consumers are now more aware of the devastating impacts single-use plastic items have on the environment, which is putting pressure on venues to remove them from their businesses. Archie Rose Distilling Co. in Sydney successfully phased out single-use plastic straws from their Rosebery venue this year and only supply paper straws when requested.
Head of hospitality Harriet Leigh recalls the turning point for her was seeing an employee run past her with a wheelie bin in tow. “He tripped up and the contents of the bin went flying out and it was entirely lemons, limes and straws,” she says. “I looked at this pile of plastic and fruit and thought that was such an amazingly powerful image of what the waste product of bars is.”
Archie Rose went on to stop supplying plastic straws to its customers, and Leigh says the reaction has been extremely positive. “We’ve had almost no push back, everyone seems happy with it,” she says. “In fact, most people don’t even notice there’s no straw. I would say 95 per cent of people just pick up the drink and start drinking. If you think about it, when you drink at home, you don’t put a straw in a drink — people are already used to not having a straw.”
Venues in Sydney are being encouraged to ditch plastic straws as part of the recently launched #SydneyDoesntSuck campaign. On 1 August, all Opera House restaurants and bars stopped supplying plastic straws, including Solotel Group’s Opera Bar, which was going through more than one million straws each year. “It’s a decision we felt was right and one our customers were actually asking for,” says Solotel Group CEO Justine Baker.
Solotel also committed to removing straws from its entire portfolio, and on 1 August, the group became completely plastic-straw free. “A lot of our Inner West venues had been straw-free for a year before,” says Baker. “They’d gone through the change with both staff and customers and had really seen a lot of support, so we knew it wasn’t going to be impossible; we just had to make a commitment and do it.”
Challenges for venues
Removing plastic straws might sound easy, but it isn’t without its hurdles. There will undoubtedly be those who oppose going straw-free, so it’s essential to have an alternative on hand.
Initially, Archie Rose contemplated using metal straws as an alternative but decided against it after a trial run with metal skewers, used for drink garnishes. “We had 50 metal skewers in the building and within three days we were down to 15 because so many had been stolen,” says Leigh.
”I personally don’t believe mining metal and manufacturing it into a straw is necessarily greener than not having a straw at all. Also, you end up with so many walking out the door that it just becomes very expensive to replace them.”
When a customer at Archie Rose, often a woman wearing lipstick, asks for a straw, they’re now given a paper one, to which there has been no complaints.
But it’s not just customers using straws; bartenders are often seen using them to taste-test drinks. At Archie Rose, bartenders have stopped using straws and instead use a metal bar spoon to sample drinks. “We take a couple of drops out of the drink and put it on the back of our hand and taste it that way,” says Leigh.
It’s also important for staff to be aware that some customers have a genuine need to use straws. “We’re aware that some people with disabilities have to use straws to drink so we have [paper] straws available,” says Baker. “We’re very conscious of making sure it is a holistic change and a positive one.”
Getting the message across
The key to getting customers onboard with the change is to keep the message positive. “You want to bring people along the journey — you don’t want to alienate them through the process,” says Baker. “It’s a great opportunity to engage with your customers at point of service, so just talk to them about it.”
Baker suggests using positive words and phrasing to help customers understand the reason behind the change. “The term ‘ban’ is a very negative approach,” she says. “We just want to explain the ‘why’ and if people aren’t happy with the change, we do have paper straws available.”
Aside from the benefits to the environment, eliminating plastic straws is an easy cost-cutter for venues. Before the ban, Archie Rose would pay approximately 1.4 cents for a cocktail straw and three cents for a large one. Multiplied by the 6000-odd straws the venue was using in a year — that’s a whole lot of unnecessary spending. “By putting nothing in 99 per cent of your drinks, you’re saving money,” says Leigh.
Not only that, Leigh says drinks also look better without a black plastic straw sticking out the top. “Once you become conditioned to it, [you] start seeing it as rubbish sitting on top of a drink,” she says. “It looks abhorrent to me now.”
Leigh says straws are a “gateway item” for encouraging people to think about sustainability. “Of the four big single-use plastic items — plastic bags, drink bottles, straws and coffee cups — straws are the only thing that don’t require the consumer to produce something themselves,” she says. “You don’t need a tote bag, you don’t need a KeepCup, you just have to say no to the straw. Once people get into that habit, you start looking at every other aspect of your takeaway, consumable needs.”
Baker encourages all venues to get behind the movement and says removing straws is an easy step to making your venue more sustainable. “We really encourage other sections of the industry to get on board,” she says. “It’s not that hard — you’ve just got to do it. Doing something is better than doing nothing.”
Removing plastic straws from your venue is a positive change that can be implemented today. Be prepared to explain the reasoning behind the change to customers who might not understand and remember to keep the message positive.
This article originally appeared in the September 2018 issue of Hospitality.