Worldwide single-use plastics are the environmental topic du jour. Television and social media are flooded with graphic images of plastic pollution in oceans and distressed sea turtles having plastic straws removed from their nostrils. With plastic straws among the top ten items which litter beaches in Aotearoa, this is one environmental problem restaurants, cafés and bars can quickly and easily do something about.

So how can a business reduce plastic straw use without upsetting those customers who aren’t so environmentally minded?

Regardless of which straws being used, the first thing to do is to reduce the number given out. Make straws ‘opt-in’ rather than ‘opt-out’. Wait for customers to ask for a straw rather than automatically popping one in their glass or have them available on the counter. This type of behavioural nudge will dramatically reduce the number a business ends up giving out, as well as having a positive impact on costs.

Look at whether reusable straws could be an option. Reusable straws come in a range of materials including bamboo, silicon and stainless steel. These can often be cleaned by simply popping them in a dishwasher. Depending on their clientele owners may find a few customers walking out the door, so make sure to communicate with customers why this change is being made, and brief staff to be on the lookout. Reusable straws are also an excellent option for customers with a disability, for whom a straw might be vital.

If there is no other option but to provide single-use straws, then a paper-based one (which quickly breaks down in the environment) is the way to go. These can vary in suitability depending on whether the straw is for a thick liquid like a smoothie or a soft drink or cocktail. Try out several types before buying in bulk.

As with any single-use item, keep an eye out for greenwashing claims! Degradable and biodegradable just means it breaks down into smaller pieces in the environment, potentially creating polluting microplastics.

By following these three easy steps, restaurant and café owners be able to reduce their use and environmental footprint, all while keeping customers happy. If the choice is made to go plastic free, be sure to boast about it online – nothing gets more social media love than a sustainable business.