The last straw: Southside restaurants drop ‘unnecessary’ plastics

Southside restaurants are skipping straws to ensure that the disposable plastics, which according to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation never break down, don’t end up in local waters.

VIRGINIA BEACH — To keep plastics out of our waterways, some Southside restaurants have implemented environmentally-conscious business practices into their operations, including the use of biodegradable to-go boxes and reusable bags.

One Norfolk restaurant is taking the fight against pollution one step further by discontinuing the use a restaurant staple: straws.

“Overall, it’s just better for the environment,” said Kiera Hill, managing partner of the popular Norfolk winebar Press 626. “It’s not just the plastic straw, but the sleeve they come in. They’re unnecessary. Coastal restaurants especially should be more mindful of this.”

Hill said the restaurant switched from plastic straws to paper straws, but ultimately decided to forego the product altogether. Customers, so far, haven’t complained.

Plastics that end up in the bay, though many are deemed “disposable,” are especially dangerous to living organisms because they don’t ever break down completely. Council said that many organisms will confuse them for prey and either try to consume them or become entangled in them.

For the last 29 years, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation has held an annual “Clean the Bay Day” where thousands of volunteers come together along Virginia’s coasts to pull trash and debris from the bay.

In its nearly 30 years, more than 6.4 million pounds of litter and miscellaneous items, ranging from food wrappers to car tires, have been removed from the waters.

Topping the list of the most popular items removed almost every year, according to Hampton Roads Grassroots Manager Tanner Council, are plastics — bottles, bags and more.

“The primary concern with plastics is their longevity,” Council said. “They’re what I refer to as effectively permanent because these things aren’t going to go away.”

A Virginia Beach-based initiative called “Beachy Clean” focuses their efforts on teaching residents and tourists alike to keep the shoreline spotless. Created by Christina Trapani, the website points out the location of recycling bins at local beaches and encourages visitors to use reusable bottles and bags.

Like Press 626, the organization also suggests skipping on straws to ensure that the plastics don’t end up in our waters.

Tom Griffin, a spokesperson for Virginia Green, said that while the program doesn’t require certified businesses and restaurants to discontinue the use of disposable plastics, many have chosen to do so.

“We require them to recycle and get away from using styrofoam products,” Griffin said, “and straws get in the way of that because they’re not recyclable.”

An added bonus to switching to biodegradable products, Griffin said, is that fewer disposable plastic products also means a decrease in the amount of plastic emissions released into the atmosphere.

Laura Habr, owner of Croc’s 19th Street Bistro, said her Oceanfront restaurant was the first in the city to be certified by Virginia Green in 2008. Joining the program quickly led Habr to implement several green practices at Croc’s, including starting their own garden, participating in Earth Hour, composting and using biodegradable products.

Griffin said he believes that businesses that incorporate green practices in their businesses have happier employees and their customers appreciate it, too.

“Their customers are appreciating it,” Griffin said. “It’s just one of those things that adds to the value of a restaurant that already has a farm-to-table kind of focus.”

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