AP NEWS

The last straw? Effort to extend plastic ban gains ground in Greenwich

February 27, 2019

GREENWICH — Julie DesChamps knows that some people think stopping single-use straw usage in Greenwich is a trivial issue.

But she and fellow members of the growing grassroots effort Skip the Straw Greenwich see it a little differently.

“Straws are considered kind of a gateway plastic,” said the 17-year resident. “It’s a simple move most people can take, and it makes people think about all their other habits.”

On Sunday, March 3, members of Skip the Straw Greenwich will join forces with Surfrider Foundation CT, BYOGreenwich and 12 community partners to hold a beach cleanup at Greenwich Point to help rid the town of straws and plenty of other unwanted waste that washes up on shore. The group invites all concerned residents to join them from 2 to 4:30 p.m. for the cleanup.

Last year, a beach cleanup there brought together more than 130 volunteers who collected more than 4,000 pounds of trash.

Skip the Straw Greenwich was founded last fall and is supported by BYOGreenwich and the Greenwich Conservation Commission. It kicked off in September with a proclamation from First Selectman Peter Tesei and a presentation by the group’s Girl Scout ambassadors.

The simple facts about straws can win over doubters, DesChamps said. According to the group’s website, a staggering 500 million plastic straws are used daily in the United States. That’s enough to wrap around the earth 2.5 times — every day.

Plastic straws, which are not recyclable in Greenwich, are among the top 10 litter items found on beaches during the annual International Coastal Cleanup.

Skip the Straw’s efforts are two-fold. First off, the group encourages restaurants in town to serve straws only by request or use an eco-friendly alternative to plastic straws and stirrers.

And the restaurants’ response has been largely positive: Le Fat Poodle and Le Penguin both use paper straws and Back 40 provides reusable stainless-steel straws. Little Pub and Applausi Osteria give out straws by request only.

Skip the Straw advises participating restaurants to keep some flexible straws on hand for people with special needs who might require them. Also, the group does not oppose use of straws in hospital situations that require them.

Secondly, the group engages residents through educational programming to increase awareness about the impact of single-use plastics on the environment, ecology and economy. In January, STSG teamed with BYOGreenwich to host a screening of the documentary “Straws,” and presentations at Greenwich Library where students highlighted their efforts to reduce disposable plastics in their schools.

“We are especially interested in involving youth,” DesChamps said.

The movement to stop single-use straws came on the heels of last year’s successful effort to ban the use of single-use plastic bags in town, said Jeanine Behr Getz, one of the founders of BYOGreenwich, which led that drive.

“Greenwich relit the torch on the importance of plastic source reduction for our states last March, when our RTM passed the first reusable checkout bag ordinance, in Connecticut, since 2008,” Getz said. “It is our hope that the BYOGreenwich involvement in the Skip the Straw Greenwich community engagements around avoiding the use of plastic straws will influence the next meaningful shift in the way our residents and businesses think about plastic pollution.”

Part of the work involves changing how consumers think, she said.

“Many people have come to expect a plastic straw to be served in every drink. A large majority don’t even use it,” Getz said.

Other events have featured local environmental leaders, such as Greenwich Shellfish Commissioner Roger Bowgen and green business consultant/author Andrew Winston.

The Shellfish Commission, in conjunction with the University of Connecticut, is studying the impact of microplastics in Long Island Sound and how they affect seafood. DesChamps said she believes more residents have recognized the need for change since the ordinance banning single-use plastic bags went into effect in September.

“I think people are getting used to it,” she said. And that can extend to straws, too.

“Like the plastic checkout bag, the proliferation plastic straws is another example of unnecessary plastic waste being generated for minimal convenience and by habit at tremendous cost to our environment, human health and municipalities,” Getz said.

For more information on the Sunday beach cleanup and ongoing efforts by Skip the Straw Greenwich, visit www.skipthestrawgreenwich.com.