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Toronto Toronto bars and restaurants join effort to get rid of plastic straws

Drinks, one with a straw in it, are carried by server Meaghan Pacheco at Toronto's Craft Brasserie & Grille on Apr. 12, 2018.

Chris Young/The Globe and Mail

Sitting in a glass, a straw doesn’t seem like much. For sipping or stirring a drink, it’s not used for long. By the end of a regular night at a bar, though, thousands of single-use, non-recyclable plastic straws are tossed out with the trash.

“The amount of straws that we throw away at the end of the night, it really is appalling,” said Rob Picken, owner of the Underground Garage on Toronto’s King Street West.

The club is a recent addition to the list of almost 100 city bars and restaurants that have promised to implement a straws-on-request policy on Saturday, April 21 – the day before Earth Day – an initiative by a group called the Last Straw Toronto.

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The Last Straw was created by Jillian Lucas and Tiffany Leeson. Both have been working in the food-service industry for at least 10 years and have seen for themselves how many plastic straws wind up in the trash. They started their project this year to encourage establishments and customers to consider the impact single-use straws have on the environment.

“I’ve been in the service industry a very long time, and the first thing people do is pull the straw out of the drink and just throw it on the bar,” Ms. Lucas said. “To me, that’s just a waste.”

Toronto isn’t the only place going straw-less.

Similar initiatives across Canada and the United States have been popping up in recent years. Cities such as Malibu, Calif., Seattle and Delhi have already banned or limited single-use plastics. Scotland plans to ban plastic straws by the end of 2019.

Ms. Lucas hopes the Last Straw will encourage establishments to go straw-less most of the time.

However, she recognizes that some people require straws for a variety of reasons, such as disabilities or sensitive teeth.

“I understand why straws are important or necessary for some people. I didn’t want this to be about alienating people or making people’s lives more difficult,” she said.

“It’s about people like me who don’t want straws. The well-meaning bartender comes by and puts a glass of water in front of me, and I didn’t ask for it, so I didn’t get a chance to say I didn’t want a straw. Or it’s the person who orders a gin and tonic and never had any intention of using the straw.”

Alternatives do exist. Paper straws or reusable ones made of materials such as glass or titanium could be used instead.

People seem to recognize that plastic straws are not great for the environment, especially after seeing viral videos such as the one of a sea turtle with a straw stuck in its nostril, Ms. Lucas said.

Mr. Picken has seen the video – it's one of the things that inspired him to participate in the April 21 initiative. “It’s the most heartbreaking thing,” he said.

Some of the participants were nominated by patrons, while others were recruited by Ms. Lucas and Ms. Leeson. Still others approached the organizers directly after hearing about it for themselves.

Some establishments, such as the Craft Brasserie & Grille in the Liberty Village neighbourhood, have decided to do away with straws for good. It has been going without for about a month now after being inspired by the Last Straw.

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Owner Chris Paragonis said joining the group was a simple decision after managers and staff brought it to his attention.

“[Customers] love it, everybody thinks it’s a great idea,” Mr. Paragonis said. “People that haven’t heard of it, when they say, ‘You forgot my straw,’ staff will let them know the reason why, and they’re happy about it.”

Ms. Lucas is just as thrilled to see how people are dedicated to making the change.

“I play trivia [at the Craft Brasserie & Grille] every Tuesday night, and I love sitting there and looking around at all the glasses of water that are surrounding me, and there’s not a straw in any of them.”

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