Group wants 50 Salt Lake City restaurants and bars to stop handing out plastic straws before Earth Day

Diners also can sign the Strawless in SLC petition to encourage businesses to take the pledge.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Zest bar manager Joz Pust puts a paper straw in a High West Sour. Zest stopped using plastic straws about two years ago. Now, the staff only gives out biodegradable straws upon customer request. Salt Lake City restaurants, bars and other businesses are being asked to stop handing out plastic straws as part of a new “Strawless in SLC” campaign. The group is hoping to get 50 restaurants to get on board before Earth Day in April.

Salt Lake City restaurants, bars and other businesses are being asked to stop handing out plastic straws as part of the Strawless in SLC campaign.

“In the next month, our goal is to get at least 50 restaurants on board,“ said volunteer organizer Laura Bellefontaine, who is spearheading the effort for SLC Air Protectors and a coalition of other health and environmental groups.

It’s a move that could keep 250,000 plastic straws from going into the landfills before Earth Day on April 22, she said.

Organizers also are asking diners to sign a petition ”to show local restaurants that there is public demand” for such a change. So far, nearly 500 people had signed the petition at change.org.

The goal is not to take away straws from consumers, Bellefontaine explained, but to provide better solutions for restaurants — such as offering paper straws only by customer request.

The movement gained traction in Seattle, where more than 150 restaurants agreed to stop using plastic straws. Since then it has taken hold in other large cities from Florida to California and in Europe.

Americans throw away about 500 million one-time-use plastic drinking straws every day — enough to wrap around the Earth twice, according to StrawFree.org, a Southern California group committed to the elimination of single-use plastic straws.

The majority of plastic straws come from restaurants and businesses that provide straws for drinking smoothies, juices, water and cocktails.

It is estimated that a medium-sized restaurant will use and dispose of about 5,000 straws per month, Bellefontaine said. The majority of these straws are not recycled and end up in the landfill or polluting oceans.

Bellefontaine said she became aware of the straw problem while on a trip to Thailand, where the tap water is not safe to drink and plastic water bottles are used regularly and discarded in the streets, along with plastic bags and other trash.

”I began seeing how a single person could impact the environment in such a positive way,” she said. “What if I simply eliminated my plastic consumption?”

Zest restaurant in Salt Lake City has not used plastic straws for two years, said owner Casey Staker. The restaurant has paper, compostable straws that are available to customers upon request.

“We don’t automatically put straws in cocktails or ice tea or water,” Staker said, noting that all the restaurant’s take-out products are made with recycled or biodegradable material. “We don’t want plastic waste, period.”

Lightweight plastic straws also are problematic for recycling companies, said John Lair with Momentum Recycling in Salt Lake City. The straws drop through sorting screens and mix with other materials.

“They are not easily recyclable,” he said. “They should go away.”